Roughly one in every thousand residents of Prince George died of an illicit drug overdose in 2022.
According to data reported by the BC Coroners Service on Tuesday, a record 81 people died of illicit drug toxicity in the city last year. With population estimates for the city ranging from 76,708 in the 2021 Census to 82,326 in 2022 according to BC Stats estimates, the overdose death rate for the city ranges from 98.4 to 105.6 overdose deaths per 100,000 people – more than double the provincial average of 42.7 deaths per 100,000.
“Vancouver, Greater Victoria, Kamloops, Kelowna, Prince George and Nanaimo were among the townships recording more illicit drug-related deaths in 2022 than in any previous year,” a statement issued by the BC Coroners Service said.
The Prince George local health area - which includes Prince George, Mackenzie, Valemount, McBride, Hixon, McLeod Lake, Kwadacha and other small communities – had the fifth-highest rate of overdoses per capita in B.C. at 79 deaths per 100,000 residents (84 deaths total, including the 81 in Prince George).
The Vancouver Centre-North (470.8 deaths per 100,000 people), Terrace (110.5 deaths per 100,000), Merritt (92.6 deaths per 100,000) and Hope (87.9 deaths per 100,000) local health areas had higher death rates in 2022.
The Northern Health region also had a record number of illicit drug overdoses in 2022, at 181. The Northern Health region had the highest rate of overdose deaths per capita at 59.5 deaths per 100,000 people.
'THE LEADING CAUSE OF UNNATURAL DEATH'
"First Nations people continue to be disproportionately impacted by the ongoing toxic drug crisis in British Columbia. Given that we are nearing the end of the seventh year of a provincewide state of emergency on illicit toxic drugs, it is difficult to accept that more First Nations people in B.C. have died from illicit toxic drug poisonings than from COVID-19,” First Nations Health Authority acting chief medical officer Dr. Nel Wieman said in a statement issued on Tuesday.
Dr. Paxton Bach, co-medical director of the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use, said doctors across B.C. are seeing the tragic consequences of illicit drug overdoses on a daily basis.
“There is no industry, no socio-economic class, no geographic region in the province that is not being touched by this crisis, and for each of these deaths there are 10 more people suffering other life-altering consequences due to non-fatal overdose events,” Bach said. “This has gone on for too long, and demands the urgent and co-ordinated response from all sectors that such a crisis deserved from the beginning."
A total of 2,272 British Columbians died from illicit drug toxicity in 2022, B.C. chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said.
“Death due to drug toxicity remains the leading cause of unnatural death in British Columbia, and is second only to cancers in terms of years of life lost,” Lapointe said. “Those dying are our family members, neighbours, friends and colleagues. Urgent action is required to reduce the significant risks that tens of thousands of British Columbians are currently facing."
In 2022, 70 per cent of those dying were aged 30 to 59, and 79 per cent were male. Illicit fentanyl and fentanyl analogues were linked to 85.8 per cent of all illicit drug deaths in B.C. between 2019 and 2022.
Between 2019 and 2022, 59 per cent of overdose deaths in the Northern Health region occurred in private homes, 21.9 per cent occurred in other residences (hotel rooms, shelters, etc.), 3.7 per cent occurred in other inside locations and 14.3 per cent occurred outside.
“More illicit drug toxicity deaths occurred during the days following income assistance payment (Wed-Sun) than all other days in 2021-22,” the BC Coroners Service report added.