The B.C. Coroners Service says its latest data on illicit drug deaths show an average of five people are dying every day in the province.
Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe says 162 people died last month, more than double the 75 illicit drug deaths recorded in October last year.
She says the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the supply of street drugs and is disrupting access to harm-reduction services such as supervised injection sites.
Lapointe says the latest toxicology testing suggests an increase in the number of cases with extreme concentrations of the opioid fentanyl between April and October compared with previous months.
October is the fifth month this year that more than 160 people have died and the eighth consecutive month with more than 100 deaths.
The coroners service says the number of deaths in each health authority is at or near the highest monthly total ever recorded.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry echoed Lapointe, saying the pandemic is having a devastating effect on the overdose crisis.
“Now more than ever, we must remove the stigma of drug use and remove the shame people feel, which keeps them from seeking help or telling friends and family,” she said in a statement on Wednesday.
Lapointe is urging clinicians to support people at risk of overdose by prescribing safe pharmaceutical alternatives to toxic street drugs through a provincial program that was expanded earlier this year.
There have been 1,386 illicit drug deaths in B.C. so far in 2020.
B.C. declared a public health emergency in April 2016 because of an increasing number of overdose deaths.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2020.
The Canadian Press