BC Records Highest Number of Illicit Drug Overdose Deaths Ever in 2020

February 11, 2021 Updated: February 11, 2021

British Columbia reported its highest number of overdose deaths ever in the same year, with nearly five people dying on average everyday, according to a new report.

The report (pdf) released Thursday by the B.C. Coroners Service said 1,716 people died from illicit drug overdoses in 2020 alone—a 74 percent spike over the numbers recorded the previous year.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said that’s an “alarming” death rate of 33.4 per 100,000 people, far surpassing the total deaths caused by suicides, homicides, car crashes, and prescription drugs.

“While many may think that deaths due to illicit drugs are confined to small areas or populations in our province, in fact people are dying in communities across B.C., from all walks of life, and leaving behind broken-hearted family, friends, and colleagues,” Lapointe said at a news conference on Thursday.

In December 2020, 152 people were suspected to have died from drug overdoses, a 130 percent increase compared to the same month in 2019, according to the report. But the number is slightly less than the 158 lives lost in November 2020.

The report also found that nearly 70 percent who died from overdoses were aged between 30 and 59. But, in general, there is a downward trend for those between 19 to 59 years old. People 60 years old and older, meanwhile, have been trending upward, the coroner service observed over several months. The rates among 0 to 18-year-olds remained low.

In addition, the study found that more men than women died from drug overdoses, as they accounted for 81 percent of the deaths in 2020.

In terms of location, Vancouver, Surrey, and Victoria had the highest number of overdose deaths.

And most drug overdose deaths (84 percent) occurred indoors, with 56 percent in private residences and 28 percent in hotels and shelters. Parks, streets, sidewalks, and vehicles accounted for 14 percent of overdose deaths. No death was reported at supervised consumption sites.

Fentanyl topped the list of illicit drugs with more than 80 percent detected by the authorities. Cocaine was second, followed by methamphetamine.

With files from The Canadian Press