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Northern BC, highest per capita drug deaths in province

Problem is complex says mental health & addictions minister
Mental Health & Addictions minister Sheila Malcolmson (right) was in Fort St. John June 14 to announce plans for a new Foundry Centre. It's hoped the new regional centre will address some of mental health and addictions issues of youth in the northeast.

There are more alarming numbers from B.C.’s Coroners Service over toxic drug deaths in, not only in our province, but here in the north.

The latest figures released by the chief coroner show B.C. recorded 161 deaths or an average of five per day in April of this year, the second-highest number ever recorded for the month.

It follows April 2021, the highest, at 186.

But, it’s one number in particular for the Northern Health Authority, that might be of bigger concern.

Per capita, the north leads B.C. in illicit toxicity deaths at 58 per 100,000 people.

The historic belief is that deaths related to drugs occur outside and in places like back alleys.

Not so.

Of the 84% of illicit drug toxicity deaths from Jan. 1 to Apr. 30, 2022, 57% actually occurred in private residences.

“Illicit drugs continue to claim the lives of British Columbians in larger numbers than homicides, motor-vehicle incidents, drownings, deaths by suicide and fire-related deaths combined,” stated the report by chief coroner Lisa Lapointe.

B.C.’s mental health and addictions minister, Sheila Malcolmson, in Fort St. John June 14, said the problem isn’t and won’t be an easy fix.

“The toxic drug crisis and the terrible loss of life from overdoses is a complex problem. There are a lot of paths into addiction,” said the minister.

“It might be an occupational injury. It may have been childhood sexual abuse. It may be a case of a bad practice of prescribing of medication by a doctor. So, the pathways out have to be equally diverse,” she added.

Malcolmson was in town to announce a new full-service youth facility, Foundry Centre, that will include mental health and addictions counselling, among other things, for those aged 12-24.

Exact details, including location, still need to be worked out but she emphasizes it's just one of the ways to address the crisis.

“I’m really inspired by, and it might be a good fit for Fort St John, something we’ve done with the construction association.”

“It’s called the Tailgate Toolbox.”

The idea, Malcolmson said, are ‘tailgate’ safety meetings that open up the conversation of harm reduction and how to access treatment and recovery.

“Recognizing there is a very high rate of substance use and loss of life to overdose in the construction sector...and it was the employers that stepped up and said we got a problem,” said the minister, who believes it’s a small piece of the puzzle.

“Above all, we need to remove the stigma of addiction challenges and mental illness. We have to beat the pattern of people using drugs alone. It’s so dangerous,” she said.

“Never telling their family or friends that they’re struggling with a problem, and by the time 911 is called, the person is on the floor of the family rec room and they’ve already passed away.”

“Never having reached out for help,” she concluded.