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Record drug deaths, paramedic calls in West Kootenay last year

Eleven people died due to toxic drugs in Nelson in 2022
A vase of flowers on top of a coffin at an event marking International Overdose Awareness Day in Nelson in 2021. Eleven people died of toxic drug poisoning in the Nelson area in 2022, the most since the health crisis was declared in 2016. Photo: Tyler Harper

The toxic drug crisis led to record numbers of deaths and calls for paramedics last year in the West Kootenay.

The Nelson local health area, which includes Salmo and a portion of the Slocan Valley, had 11 fatalities in 2022. That is the area’s worst year for deaths since the province declared a public health emergency in 2016, according to data released Tuesday by the BC Centre for Disease Control.

Castlegar and Creston also set new fatality records with seven and three deaths, respectively. Five people died in Trail, four in Grand Forks and a total of 31 in the Kootenay Boundary region.

Nelson has had 40 fatalities since 2016, followed by Castlegar and Grand Forks with 28 each; Trail with 27; the Arrow Lakes area, which includes Nakusp, with 12; and nine in the Kettle Valley.

The BC Coroners’ Service said Tuesday that 2022 was the province’s second-most deadly year of the crisis with 2,272 people dying from poisoned drugs.

The announcement coincided with the start of a three-year drug decriminalization pilot in B.C. Possession of up to 2.5 grams of opioids such as heroin and fentanyl, cocaine, crack, methamphetamine and MDMA is now allowed. Users won’t be arrested, charged or have their drugs seized by police if their drugs are under the weight threshold.

As drugs fatalities continue to rise, so do calls for service to paramedics.

Nelson-area paramedics responded to 108 overdose or drug poisoning calls last year, up from 47 in 2021 and nearly double the previous high of 59 in 2019.

Trail had the second most calls with 90, followed by seven-year highs in Grand Forks (45), Castlegar (44) and Creston (27).


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