Western Canada is mourning their dead in droves following another fatal month for overdose victims.
The B.C. Coroners Service (BCCS) reported 184 deaths caused by illicit drugs, according to the latest monthly data on the ongoing overdose crisis — over 1,200 this year alone.
In a year-over-year comparison, the death toll jumped 17% from last June and 2% higher than in May.
Of most deaths recorded this year, 57% happened in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health authorities. Vancouver, Surrey and Greater Victoria experienced the highest toxic drug fatalities.
Since April 2016, drug overdoses have killed 12,264 people in B.C. and over 32,000 people nationwide. Health Canada blamed fentanyl for the overwhelming majority (76%) of those deaths.
Fentanyl, or one of its analogues, caused 90% of illicit drug deaths recorded in June, according to provincial data. Of the fatal overdoses reported this year, B.C. linked 85% of deaths to fentanyl.
"Illicit fentanyl continues to drive the crisis, causing deaths in large and small municipalities, towns and cities across the province. This health emergency is not confined to…anyone accessing an illicit substance," said Chief Coroner Lisa LaPointe.
She told reporters Wednesday that a safer drug supply is needed to combat the fentanyl crisis, finding no evidence that a safer supply of drugs contributed to fatal overdoses.
In 2021, B.C. became the first province in Canada to implement a safer supply program.
In January, Health Canada granted the province a subsection 56(1) exemption for three years under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize people who possessed up to 2.5 grams of heroin, crack, cocaine, fentanyl, MDMA, and meth.
Given the gender and age breakdown of the victims, 74% were male, and 69% were between 30 and 59 years old — consistent with 2023 trends.
One of those deaths included safe supply advocate Jerry Martin, 51, who sold cocaine, heroin and meth from his mobile trailer in Downtown Eastside.
In May, Martin opened 'The Drugs Store' on the corner of Main and Cordova Streets after the province temporarily legalized small amounts of 'hard drugs.' He prided himself in his ability to produce a product with no impurities or harmful additives.
Martin, unfortunately, passed on June 30 from a suspected fentanyl overdose. After hospital staff failed to register brain activity, his family took him off life support.
The province reported unregulated drug toxicity as their leading cause of death for people aged 10 to 59 — exceeding combined deaths from homicides, suicides, accidents and natural disease.
Since the precipice of the COVID pandemic, B.C. has noticed a marked increase in overdose fatalities.
In July 2020, overdose deaths reached 175, marking five consecutive months of increasing incidences. The province confirmed 203 COVID deaths during the same period.
A total of 4,605 people died from accidental poisonings in 2020; the following year, the number grew to 6,310.
In October 2021, B.C.'s submission to Health Canada considered "illicit drug poisoning the leading cause of death amongst British Columbians aged 19 to 39."
The BCCS recorded only 2,272 deaths the following year but still up tenfold in 2001 when 272 fatal overdoses occurred.
Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside urged people to plan before using drugs.
"You can stay safer by buddying up and downloading the free Lifeguard app, carrying naloxone with you, or visiting one of the many drug-checking sites throughout the province," she said.
Whiteside echoed Lapointe's urgency in resolving the crisis. "We know there is more to do, and we won't stop working until we end this crisis."
She said that work on a "seamless system" of mental health and addictions care is underway.