Over a thousand BC residents died during the first half of 2021 from suspected drug overdoses. It is now the leading cause of death for adults under 40, reported Global News.

"The deaths of [at least 1,011] British Columbians in the first six months of 2021 is a tragic reminder that the toxic illicit drug supply remains a significant ongoing threat to public health and safety in communities throughout our province," said BC’s Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe in a release.

This represents a 34 percent increase in deaths recorded between January and June 2020, with 757 fatal overdoses.

BC health officials said 1,716 deaths in the province were due to illicit drug overdoses in 2020. That trend continued into 2021, with 165 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths in January — the largest number of alleged overdoses recorded in any January.

Seventy percent of overdose fatalities in January were residents aged 30 to 59, reported the Western Standard. From January to June 2021, 71 percent of fatal overdoses were residents aged 30 to 59.

Though overdose fatalities fell in May (162) and June (159) 2021 compared to May (177) and June (185) 2020, illicit drug toxicity death rates for all health authority rates and adults 19 and older remain high.

BC government data found that the illicit drug supply is becoming increasingly toxic, with extreme fentanyl concentrations and carfentanil showing up more frequently in toxicology testing.

Post-mortem testing found fentanyl is the substance involved in most drug-toxicity deaths – 85 percent in the first six months of 2021.

"Those who died mattered, and their loss is felt deeply," said Lapointe, who released the statistics on International Overdose Awareness Day. "We must continue to urge those in positions of influence across our province and the country to move to urgently implement measures to prevent more unnecessary suffering and death."

More than 7,000 people have died since British Columbia declared a public health emergency in 2016 because of deaths related to illicit drugs, reported CP24. The number of fatalities has hit record levels during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Paramedics across BC have been responding to an exponential increase in overdoses this year, and there appears no end in sight to this health crisis," said Brian Twaites, advanced care paramedic and paramedic specialist, who has attended to thousands of overdoses in a 35-year career.

The health authorities with the highest number of illicit drug-toxicity deaths were the Fraser Valley (342) and Vancouver Coastal Health (283), making up 62 percent of the deaths during this period.

Eighty-five percent of illicit drug toxicity deaths in the first half of 2021 occurred indoors, with 56 percent in private residences and 29 percent in other dwellings, including social and supportive housing, shelters, hotels and other indoor locations.  

Fourteen percent of deaths occurred outdoors, with males accounting for 80 percent of deaths in 2021.

According to Lapointe, BC needs to address barriers to safe supplies of drugs, timely access to affordable treatments and provide services and options to those looking to overcome addiction.

No deaths were reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites this year.