OH CANADA, OH NO –   

August 31, 2021 – It’s mind-boggling communities across Canada must still organize for an annual awareness day to draw public and policymakers’ attention to poisoned street drugs and an ongoing health crisis that has killed more than 21,000 people in just five years, advocates say.

Events for International Overdose Awareness Day are taking place across Canada on Tuesday to commemorate people killed by toxic street drugs, recognize the grief of family and friends, and advocate for change.

Yet as people gather to mourn across the globe, and despite public recognition of the public health crisis, the death toll across Canada from toxic street drugs is the highest it has ever been — and is spiking, said Karen Ward, a drug policy consultant for the City of Vancouver.

It’s mind-boggling communities across Canada must still organize for an annual awareness day to draw public and policymakers’ attention to poisoned street drugs and an ongoing health crisis that has killed more than 21,000 people in just five years, advocates say.

Events for International Overdose Awareness Day are taking place across Canada on Tuesday to commemorate people killed by toxic street drugs, recognize the grief of family and friends, and advocate for change.

Yet as people gather to mourn across the globe, and despite public recognition of the public health crisis, the death toll across Canada from toxic street drugs is the highest it has ever been — and is spiking, said Karen Ward, a drug policy consultant for the City of Vancouver.

“It’s outrageous and so upsetting that we even have to have awareness when what we need right now is outrage and immediate and obvious action to change drug policy,” said Ward.

“Especially when we know what the problem is, and we know what to do.”

Deaths from poisoned street drugs continue to soar, and are anticipated to get worse, Ward said, noting recent federal modelling suggests that if the status quo continues, more than 1,800 people in Canada will die every three months in 2021 from the illicit toxic drug supply.

And should fentanyl poisoning worsen, that number may well peak at almost 2,400 fatalities over a three-month period.

British Columbia, the province hardest hit by the overdose crisis, is on track to experience its worst year on record since declaring a public health emergency in 2016, according to the BC Coroners Service report released Tuesday.

A total of 1,011 people died from poisoned street drugs in the first six months of 2021 alone — a 34 per cent increase over the previous high of 757 deaths during the same time frame last year as isolation and an increasingly toxic street supply was aggravated by the pandemic.

But 5.3 people continue to die daily from toxic illicit drugs in B.C., which has tallied 7,000 fatalities in the half-decade since declaring the issue a health crisis.

The toll is inexcusable given the deaths are preventable, Ward said, adding government drug policy is killing people rather than the drugs themselves.

“These deaths are the consequence of prohibition, which is the foundation of Canada’s drug policy,” Ward said.

“People are buying … unknown substances and don’t know what they’re putting in their bodies.”

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