Princeton has suffered the highest number of illicit drug related deaths in the province, per capita, over the past two years, according to a B.C. Coroner’s report released October 16.
Twelve residents died between 2017 and 2019, the report states.
“I knew every one of them,” said Mayor Spencer Coyne. “They are not just statistics. These are our friends and neighbours and our family members.”
The report says that while the number of suspected drug deaths province wide decreased by 37 per cent from August 2019 compared to the same month last year, there are still 2.5 people dying from drugs each day in the province.
“This has been on the horizon for a number of years,” said Coyne.
The coroner’s report includes historic data. It indicates between 2013 and 2015 Princeton had the second highest rate of drug related deaths, per capita, the second highest rate between 2015-17, and also the highest rate between 2016-2018.
The most recent numbers indicate that Princeton has had 83.3 deaths, per 100,000 persons, between 2017 and 2019.
By way of comparison, during the same time, Vancouver experienced 50.2 deaths per capita, equalling 952 people.
The report lists the communities with the top 15 illicit drug toxicity deaths, per capita, by local health area.
Coyne noted Keremeos, Hope and Penticton are also on the list.
He fingers, in part due to Highway 3.
“It’s easy access [to drugs] through the Lower Mainland. It’s a big part of it. It is a corridor.”
Reflecting on the last two years of data, Coyne said a lot of progress has been made.
He said there have been no drug-related deaths in Princeton in the first six months of 2019.
The mayor sits on numerous health care committees in the region, and was first made aware of the information in the report two months ago.
“We’ve had a number of meetings where the topic has been front and centre.”
He pointed to successful harm reduction and recovery programs being operated locally by Interior Health.
“It’s progression in the right way.”
Coyne acknowledged that support for people with addiction in Princeton has sometimes been spotty, given turnover with Interior Health staff.
“It’s extremely hard to get [professionals] and it’s hard to keep them.”
However Princeton is now served by a full time mental health and addiction worker, as well as a full time youth counsellor.
He said that’s “optimistic.”
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