British Columbia recorded 175 overdose deaths in July as paramedics responded to a record 2,706 non-fatal overdoses, prompting health officials to call for greater access to a safer supply of drugs as a top priority. The province had its highest-ever overdose fatalities in June, with 177 deaths due to extreme concentrations of illicit fentanyl in street drugs after border closures stopped the flow of substances typically trafficked in the province.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry joined chief coroner Lisa Lapointe in calling for a robust response to the overdose crisis, saying it’s discouraging that pandemic-related measures such as physical distancing have contributed to overdose fatalities as people use drugs alone.

“I implore anybody who’s using drugs right now, do not do it alone. You need to have your lifeguard there,” Henry said, referring to the presence of someone with the overdose-reversing medication naloxone. Henry said street drugs are increasingly being cut with substances such as benzodiazepines, non-opioids often prescribed for anxiety, which makes reversal of an overdose with naloxone more difficult.

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