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Smithers records four toxic drug deaths in first quarter of 2024

The town remains below provincial average in deaths per 100,000 population
In 2023 and 2024, fentanyl was detected in 85 per cent of unregulated drug deaths in B.C. that have undergone expedited toxicology testing. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire File)

The Smithers Local Health Area (LHA) has already recorded four deaths from unregulated drugs in the first quarter of 2024, half its total from all of 2023.

Smithers recorded a total of eight deaths in 2023. Among them five were females and three were males, with one reported as an outdoor death.

Nevertheless, Smithers remains below the provincial average in unregulated drug deaths per 100,000 population according to the latest report from the B.C. Coroners Office at 32.7 in 2023 compared to 40 for the province. The average over the past eight years since the province declared toxic drug deaths a public health emergency has been 25.4 for the LHA.

Prince Rupert is also on the low side for the province and particularly in the Northern Health Region at 33.6 deaths per 100,000 population. The North Coast city reported 0nly five unregulated drug deaths in 2023, with no deaths reported in the first quarter of 2024. Among the 2023 deaths, four were males, one was female, and one occurred outdoors.

Elsewhere in the Northwest, Terrace is one of the hardest-hit communities in the province grappling with the impact of unregulated drug deaths.

In 2023, Terrace reported 22 unregulated drug deaths, a trend that has persisted in 2024, with three deaths reported from January to March.

With 22 deaths last year, the city had the fourth-highest death rate per 100,000 population in the province at 93.9, following Vancouver Centre North, which had a staggering rate of 552.4 in 2023, Hope (123.7), Alberni (102.8).

Of the reported Terrace deaths, 90 per cent occurred indoors, predominantly in private residences, social and supportive housing, SROs, shelters and hotels. This percentage is higher than the provincial average of 84 per cent indoor deaths.

In 2023, Out of the 22 deaths, eight were females and 14 were males.

This mirrors the provincial trend of increasing female unregulated drug deaths, with rates climbing from 13 per 100,000 population in 2020 to 23 per 100,0000 in 2023 and is particularly pronounced in the Northern Health Authority region (57 deaths per 100,000) and Island Health Authority (32 deaths per 100,000)

In 2023, Kitimat reported nine unregulated drug deaths, with an additional three deaths from January to March 2024. Among the 2023 deaths, seven were males and two were females, all occurring indoors.

The district was also among the highest rates per 100,000 population at 92.1.

Overall, the rate in B.C. is 40 deaths per 100,0000 population so far in 2024, showing a slight decrease from 45.7 per 100,000 in 2023.

The most common mode of consumption province-wide in 2024 is smoking (72 per cent), followed by nasal inflation (14 per cent), injection (12 per cent) and oral (six per cent).

In 2023-2024, fentanyl was detected in 85 per cent, cocaine in 48 per cent, methamphetamine in 45 per cent and hydromorphone in three per cent of unregulated drug deaths that have undergone expedited toxicology testing.

The number of unregulated drug deaths in March 2024 equates to about 6.2 deaths per day across the province. This is a slight decline from seven deaths per day in March 2023.

About the Author: Prabhnoor Kaur

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