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Minister’s statement on lives lost to poisoned drugs in January

CANADA, March 11 - Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, has released the following statement regarding the BC Coroners Service’s report on illicit drug toxicity deaths for January 2022:

“January brought more tragic loss of life due to the poisoned drug crisis in British Columbia. An unprecedented number of families, friends, communities and care providers carry the pain and sorrow of the 207 lives lost.  

"People in small and large communities across the province are losing their lives because of illicit drugs, which have become increasingly toxic since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first months of 2020, fentanyl concentrations in illicit drug deaths were between 4% and 8%. By the end of 2021, this had increased to between 24% and 28% – a staggering increase. We have also seen a significant increase in benzodiazepines, the effects of which cannot be reversed by naloxone.

"One of the most important ways we can save lives is to separate people from the toxic drug supply. Last month, I stood with clinicians to share progress on our safer supply policy. B.C. is leading Canada with our prescribed safer supply program, and we are supporting health authorities with $22.6 million to implement this program.

"Earlier this week, the BC Coroners Service released the results of its third death review panel of illicit drug toxicity deaths. This report confirms that the work underway by our government is crucial to saving lives and ending the toxic drug crisis and that more work is needed.

"We know the toxic drug crisis needs to be tackled from all angles. That’s why our government has made unprecedented investments in mental health and addictions supports across the spectrum of treatment, recovery and harm reduction. Tragically, this has not been enough.

"Never before have so many people worked so hard to stand up supports, from physicians and nurses to social workers, counsellors and other front-line workers. The work they do on the ground every day is absolutely vital and for that I am eternally grateful.

"We are swimming against a rising tide of need but we need to keep going and keep working together. There’s much more to do, and we won’t stop working until we turn this crisis around.”

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Updated actions on the drug poisoning response: