Marking 20 years
of bold journalism,
reader supported.
Rights + Justice

BC’s Rate of Drug Toxicity Deaths Has Overtaken Ohio and Pennsylvania

The coroner reports that 184 people died in July, and the province’s rate of death now stands at 40 fatalities for every 100,000 people.

Jen St. Denis 29 Sep

Jen St. Denis is The Tyee’s Downtown Eastside reporter. Find her on Twitter @JenStDen.

The BC Coroners Service reported today that 184 people died of toxic drugs in July, making that month the deadliest this year.

It’s another troubling sign that British Columbia — which already has the deadliest drug toxicity problem in Canada — is on track to record even more deaths in 2021 than in 2020, when deaths began rising steeply as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.

In 2021, an average of 172 people have died every month, up from 144 in 2020. So far, 1,204 people have died in 2021, compared to 1,734 in 2020. The per-capita rate has also ticked up, to 40 deaths per 100,000. That’s a higher rate of drug overdose death than in opioid-ravaged states like Ohio (38.3), Maryland (38.2) or Pennsylvania (35.6) — but not quite as dire as Delaware (48) or West Virginia (52.8).

In Vancouver Coastal Health, the rate is 47 deaths per 100,000, and it's 46 per 100,000 in Northern Health.

If British Columbia’s death rate doesn’t slow down, over 2,000 people could die this year of a drug overdose.


There has been a delay in reporting the deaths because the Coroners Service had to investigate 719 sudden deaths that happened in June and July during an unprecedented heat dome. Overdose death numbers for August are still not out.

As federal leaders jockeyed for votes in the weeks leading up to the Sept. 20 election, drug policy advocates said they were looking for concrete action — but the parties were coming up short.

“We want them to talk about decriminalization in an educated way. We want them to talk about legal regulation similar to alcohol, tobacco and cannabis,” said Leslie McBain, one of the founders of Moms Stop the Harm, an advocacy group of parents who have lost family members to drug-related harms or substance abuse.

“We want them to talk about a declaration of a public health emergency. We want to know how much money they’re willing to spend on these things, and we don’t hear that.”

Here is some recent reporting from The Tyee on the drug poisoning crisis:

Campus Life Is Returning. Will Toxic Drug Deaths Increase Too?

This Overdose Awareness Day, Activists Will Again Hand Out Safe Drugs

One Family, Two Deaths, 18 Years of Drug Policy Failure

BC’s Overdose Failure: ‘Each One of these Deaths Was Preventable’

Five Ways to End the Toxic Drug Crisis. From the Frontlines  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, Rights + Justice

  • Share:

Get The Tyee's Daily Catch, our free daily newsletter.

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Comments that violate guidelines risk being deleted, and violations may result in a temporary or permanent user ban. Maintain the spirit of good conversation to stay in the discussion.
*Please note The Tyee is not a forum for spreading misinformation about COVID-19, denying its existence or minimizing its risk to public health.


  • Be thoughtful about how your words may affect the communities you are addressing. Language matters
  • Challenge arguments, not commenters
  • Flag trolls and guideline violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity, learn from differences of opinion
  • Verify facts, debunk rumours, point out logical fallacies
  • Add context and background
  • Note typos and reporting blind spots
  • Stay on topic

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist, homophobic or transphobic language
  • Ridicule, misgender, bully, threaten, name call, troll or wish harm on others
  • Personally attack authors or contributors
  • Spread misinformation or perpetuate conspiracies
  • Libel, defame or publish falsehoods
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities
  • Post links without providing context

Most Popular

Most Commented

Most Emailed


The Barometer

Are You Concerned about Your Municipality’s Water Security?

Take this week's poll