A woman holds up a sign bearing a photograph of Morgan Goodridge during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver on Saturday, August 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A woman holds up a sign bearing a photograph of Morgan Goodridge during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver on Saturday, August 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

155 overdose deaths in B.C. marks deadliest February on record

The pandemic has led to increased isolation and a more toxic drug supply

The province reported 155 fatal overdoses in February as the opioid crisis continues in B.C.

In a Wednesday (March 24) news release, the BC Coroners Service said that this was the 11th month in a row where more than 100 people had died.

“The number of deaths due to toxic illicit drugs in February highlights the ongoing critical risk to public health and safety from the illicit drug market,” said Lisa Lapointe, B.C.’s chief coroner. “The continued tragic and unprecedented rate of death in B.C. highlights the urgent need for a multi-faceted, evidence-based and accessible system of care for those experiencing problematic substance use.”

This was the deadliest February on record since the overdose crisis began nearly five years ago in B.C. with a 107 per cent increase over the same month last year.

February saw 5.5 people die per day, compared to an average of 4.7 people per day for 2020, when 1,724 people died in total.

An increasingly toxic drug supply and isolation, both brought on by the pandemic, have been blamed for the increase in deaths.

Data for the first two months of 2021 show that 81 per cent of those dying were male and that the highest number of deaths were reported in Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria. While the highest number of overdose deaths were in Fraser Health with 116 and Vancouver Coastal Health at 90, the highest rate of death was in Northern Health at 58 deaths per 100,000 individuals.

Overall in B.C., the rate of overdose deaths so far for 2021 is at 38 per 100,000 people, higher than 2020’s record 33.5 per 100,000.

Of the year’s 329 deaths, 192 – or 58 per cent – were in private residences, while 92 – or 28 per cent – were in other residences. An additional 36 – 10.9 per cent – were outside.

While the BC Coroners Service stressed that 2021 data is preliminary, thus far about 85 per cent of overdose deaths had fentanyl present this year, compared to 86 per cent last year.

Overall, between 2018 and 2020, fentanyl and its analogues were involved in 87 per cent of deaths, with cocaine at 48.7 per cent and methamphetamine at 38.4 per cent.

Extreme fentanyl concentrations, defined as exceeding 50 micrograms per litre, were found in 13 per cent of people who fatally overdoses between April 2020 and January 2021, compared to eight per cent from January 2019 to March 2020.

Carfentanil, deemed 100 times stronger than fentanyl, has been found in 31 deaths in the first two months of 2021, compared to 65 deaths in all of 2020.

READ MORE: 2020 marks deadliest year of overdose crisis in B.C. history


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