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Toxic drugs still claiming lives every month in Langley

The toxic drug supply crisis is already among the worst in years for Langley
B.C. chief coroner Lisa Lapointe provides an update on illicit drug toxicity deaths in the province during a news conference at the legislature in Victoria on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Langley has seen 34 people die of toxic street drugs so far this year, as the overdose crisis continues to claim lives, according to the most recent report by the B.C. Coroners Service.

“The illicit drug market continues to pose immense risks to people across our province,” said Lisa Lapointe, B.C.’s chief coroner. “People in communities across B.C. are continuing to lose friends, family members and colleagues to the unprecedented toxicity of the unregulated drug supply. I extend my sincere condolences to all of those grieving the loss of a loved one.”

The preliminary data released this week includes all deaths up to the end of August. As of that date, 1,468 people in B.C. had lost their lives to the toxic drug crisis.

In total, 169 people died of toxic drugs last month.

The number of deaths was down slightly, by 12 per cent, from the 193 deaths in July provincewide.

Langley used to see between five and 10 fatal overdoses and toxic drug deaths in a year.

Then in 216, with the arrival of fentanyl and other powerful opioids, the street drug supply became so contaminated that users began dying at much higher rates.

Numbers began to decline in 2019, as various programs attempted to tackle the problem and save drug users, but the pandemic sent the numbers skyrocketing back up.

READ MORE: More comprehensive services required to curb B.C. drug deaths, doctor says

READ ALSO: RCMP seize estimated 7,000 lethal doses of fentanyl in Langley raid

Drug deaths used to kill about as many British Columbians every year as car accidents, around 300. It’s now more than 1,500 to 2,000 every year.

At least 10,326 British Columbians have been lost to the illicit drug supply since the province declared it a public health emergency in 2016.

“We are working hard to build a system of mental-health and substance-use care where there wasn’t one five years ago,” said B.C.’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Sheila Malcolmson. “We are offering innovative harm-reduction solutions, like prescribed safe supply - the only province in Canada to do so - and are adding new treatment beds and recovery services throughout B.C.

“We are also the only province in Canada to decriminalize people who use drugs, so that we can remove the stigma and shame associated with substance use,” she said. “We agree addiction is a health-care issue, not a criminal one.”

The Coroners Service has repeatedly called for a provincial framework for a safer-supply model, which would see addicts get tested drugs, rather than random street drugs that could be contaminated with any of a number of powerful prescription medications and opioids.

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Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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