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Call for decriminalization as British Columbia sets record for most overdose deaths in a year


February 11, 2021
By Canadian Press

Feb. 11, 2021 – British Columbia’s chief coroner says the province has recorded the most deaths ever in a single year due to an unnatural cause, with 1,716 lives lost to illicit drug overdoses in 2020.

Lisa Lapointe says that’s an “alarming” death rate of 33.4 per 100,000 people and it far surpassed fatalities caused by suicides, homicides, motor vehicle crashes and prescription drug deaths combined.

Lapointe says harm reduction measures, such as overdose prevention sites, were starting to have an effect in 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic drove people back inside their homes where they use drugs alone.

She says most people dying are males in private homes, and it’s not just limited to any one area but is happening in communities across the province.

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British Columbia declared a public health emergency in 2016 after a significant increase in overdose deaths caused by powerful opioids, including the synthetic drug fentanyl.

Lapointe says it’s time to decriminalize the simple possession of drugs so that public health officials can reduce the harm and stigma associated with substance use.

“We know that decades of this punishing and stigmatizing approach have brought us to the devastating place we’re in today,” she says.

B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions and Vancouver’s mayor are set to hold news conferences about the opioid crisis later today.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 11, 2021.