While many have been focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, British Columbia has been dealing with a second public health emergency: overdose deaths.
B.C. now has a record of six straight months with over 100 illicit drug toxicity deaths. Emergency health services have also received a record number of overdose calls over the summer, and in the first eight months of 2020, there have been more overdose deaths than in all of 2019.
In August, there was a 71% increase in the number of overdose deaths compared with the same time last year. However, after peaking at 181 deaths in June, the number of overdose deaths has fallen for the past two consecutive months, dipping 16% in August from July.
Fentanyl appears to be playing a larger role in B.C.’s drug overdose crisis, with the number of overdose deaths showing signs of extreme fentanyl concentrations nearly doubling to 14% in April 2020 to August 2020, from 8% from January 2019 to March 2020.
Men continue to make up the majority of overdose deaths, accounting for 81% of all overdose deaths to date in 2020; however, in August 2020, overdose rates for women returned to average levels. While Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria have the highest number of cases, the highest overdose rates are in the Northern Health region, where there are 40 overdose deaths per 100,000, compared with 31 across the province.
Vancouver had the second highest overdose rate at 36 overdoses per 100,000. While overdose rates in Vancouver Coastal Health and Island health declined in August, rates in the Northern Health region have remained high.
Despite the increase in deaths, there have been no reported deaths at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.