News of another deadly month from illicit drug toxicity in B.C. came alongside granular data showing little change year-over-year in such deaths within the Southern Gulf Islands Local Health Area.
January saw 211 deaths province-wide according to a report released Tuesday, March 7 from the B.C. Coroners Service — 39 of which occurred on Vancouver Island. Among municipalities, Nanaimo’s 12 deaths placed it behind only Vancouver (61) and Surrey (24) in total number of January deaths.
Due to a relatively small population, monthly figures were not released for the Southern Gulf Islands, but detailed data tables released alongside last week’s report noted annual deaths from suspected illicit drug toxicity broken down by Local Health Area show two deaths in total for 2022 — the same number as were recorded in 2020 and 2021. A single death each year in 2018 and 2019, none reported in 2017, and two in 2016 suggest a relatively steady number of deaths in the 7 years included in the report. In fact, as the region’s total population has crept up in those years, the number of deaths by population has technically decreased — although the change is likely not significant.
An apparent conflict between these figures and earlier reporting — as many as three toxic drug deaths were reported on Salt Spring Island in October of 2022 alone — may be the result of suspected causes of death being different from that ultimately determined by coroners. A statement made by Salt Spring RCMP Sgt. Clive Seabrook at the Feb. 24 ASK Salt Spring session suggested that could be the case in one of the October deaths.
The provincial numbers equate to an average of 6.8 deaths from suspected illicit drug toxicity each day in B.C., according to the service. By place of injury, 55 per cent died at private residences, with 29 per cent at other “inside residences” — such as social and supportive housing, shelters, and hotels — and 15 per cent at outdoor locations including parks and vehicles. More than three-quarters (77 per cent) of the deaths identified as male.
The 211 deaths represent a two per cent decrease over the number of deaths in January 2022, and a two percent increase over the number of deaths in December 2022, according to the service.