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Opioid crisis deaths hit 498 for 2021, 5.3 per day

158 people died in March as B.C. approached fifth health emergency anniversary

Some 498 British Columbians have lost their lives due to illicit drug overdoses so far in 2021.

Almost 13,000 people have died since 1996. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson calls the situation a “terrible tragedy."

The grim total comes after the B.C. Coroners Service April 29 announced 158 people died in March.

It's the twelfth consecutive month in which more than 100 people have died, with an average of five per day.

"Stigma and criminalization are driving people to use alone, and the pandemic is pushing people further into isolation,” Malcolmson said. “The illicit drug supply has become dramatically more toxic and, tragically, more lethal. 

“The effects of two public health emergencies have taken an immense toll. People and communities are hurting, and we will do more to stop this terrible surge of overdose deaths.”

Malcolmson said deaths decreased in 2019 and showed public health measures were having an effect.

"In addition to expanding proven, life-saving measures such as overdose prevention services, outreach teams, nurses and making naloxone widely available, we are building up treatment and recovery services, adding new treatment beds around the province and trailblazing first-in-Canada solutions like prescribed safe supply and nurse prescribing.”

Malcolmson said finances are in place for $500 million for mental health and substance use over the next three years, including $45 million to ensure the stability of all overdose prevention sites. 

The minister said the province is increasing the number of treatment beds, expanding the scope of nursing practice and opioid agonist treatments to assist people getting off drugs, creating more flexible addiction treatment options including boosting recovery supports and increasing available outreach teams and counselling availability.

Malcolmson said the province has applied to Ottawa for an exemption to the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth has asked police forces in B.C. to not pursue criminal charges for people with personal possession of drugs, she said.

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