Testing for fentanyl. Photo: The Canadian Press

Testing for fentanyl. Photo: The Canadian Press

Interior Health reports 23 suspected drug deaths in February

BC Coroners Service reported another deadly month due to drug fatalities.

The BC Coroners Service reported another deadly month in February due to drug fatalities.

The month counted a total of 155 suspected deaths due to drug toxicity, the largest number of deaths ever recorded in the month of February.

Interior Health (IH) reported 23 deaths in February and 48 since Jan. 1, 2021. Kootenay Boundary has had five illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2021, all five in January and none in February.

The latest numbers are down from January of this year when 174 people died from drug overdoses in that month alone – setting another record.

More recently, however, the Nelson Police Department reported that two people died in Nelson of drug poisonings.

The first death occurred Thursday, March 25, while the other came on Sunday, March 28 in the Cottonwood Falls and Railtown areas of Nelson.

”Although these events are unrelated and occurred days apart, NPD is reminding the public of current high dangers in the local illicit drug supply, which may draw a nexus to these events,” said the police statement.

It’s not clear what drugs were used, or if they contained fentanyl. The BC Coroners Service says illicit fentanyl and analogues have been detected in 87 per cent of drug fatalities between 2018 and 2020.

The toxic drug supply crisis claimed four lives in Trail last year. In IH there were 283 additional deaths due to overdoses in 2020, compared to a total of 114 COVID deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

February also marked 11 months straight in which more than 100 people have died each month from overdose in B.C.

The first two months of 2021 saw more than double the amount of deaths, 329, than over the same time period in 2020, when 156 people died.

From 2016 when the crisis was announced to 2020, the province has had 6,743 deaths due to illicit drug toxicity.

Also worrying is the increase in the number of people who have unprescribed benzodiazepines and its analogues, including etizolam (not licensed in Canada), in their systems when they overdose. This drug type increases the likelihood of overdose because combined with fentanyl, it interferes with breathing.

Advocates stress that work must be done to address the root causes of addiction, from mental-health issues like depression, anxiety and stress, to abuse and trauma.

The coroner’s report summarizes all unintentional illicit drug toxicity deaths in B.C. (accidental and undetermined) that occurred between January 1, 2011, and February 28, 2021, inclusive.

It includes confirmed and suspected illicit toxicity deaths. Data is subject to change as investigations are concluded.

fentanylKootenay Boundary Regional District