There have been 50 fatal overdoses in the Nelson, Castlegar and Trail areas since 2010. Photo: Phil McLaughlan/Black Press

There have been 50 fatal overdoses in the Nelson, Castlegar and Trail areas since 2010. Photo: Phil McLaughlan/Black Press

BC Coroners Service: 50 people have died of overdoses in Nelson, Castlegar, Trail since 2010

Nelson has already had three fatal overdoses in 2020

Fifty people have died due to overdoses in the Nelson, Castlegar and Trail areas since 2010.

Preliminary data on suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths provided to Black Press by the BC Coroners Service show 19 people in the Nelson local health area, which includes Ymir and Salmo, died between 2010 and May 31, 2020.

Trail has had 16 fatalities while 15 people have also died in the Castlegar area.

The Coroners Service has previously declined to make such statistics by township and month public, citing privacy concerns in regions with smaller populations.

But following a report released June 11 in which the Coroners Service summarized illicit drug deaths in B.C. over the previous decade (the report can be read in full at the bottom of this story), Black Press requested local stats. The service in turn provided annual data by local health authority that meets the provincial small numbers policy criteria.

What the numbers show is a rise in deaths corresponding with the start of the provincial opioid crisis, which began to spike in 2016. There were 5,565 overdose deaths in B.C. between Jan. 1, 2016 to May 31, 2020.

In the Nelson area, there were six recorded overdose deaths between 2010 and 2015. But in 2016 alone there were five, followed by four in 2017, two in 2018 and two in 2019. There have also already been three through May 31 this year. Nelson Police have also said they believe a woman’s death on June 4 was due to an overdose.

ANKORS drug checking project co-ordinator Chloe Sage said a combination of increased harm reduction services, overdose prevention sites and easier access to naloxone led to fewer deaths in 2018 and 2019.

But this year, with the province locked down by COVID-19, Sage said deaths are rising due to physical isolation and closed services.

“All the work we did to get to where we were in 2018, 2019, a lot of that got removed by the isolation people were dealing with unfortunately,” she said.

Sage’s observation is backed by provincial stats that show a deepening opioid crisis.

B.C. paramedics responded to 131 overdoses on June 26, the most ever recorded in a single day and double the daily average. Fatal overdoses were also up 93 per cent among Indigenous peoples during the first five months of 2020.

Sage is the point person behind ANKORS’ free drug checking service. She said she’s found drug mixes to be inconsistent this year. There’s less cocaine in what users believe to be cocaine, for example. She’s also found benzodiazepine, a type of tranquilizer, in fentanyl samples.

What that means is less certainty among users of what they are taking, and because of the pandemic there are also fewer people nearby to keep watch if something goes wrong.

“A lot of people have been dying alone because they just haven’t had access to people to witness,” said Sage. “That isolation is such a huge factor.”

Related: VIDEO: An inside look at Nelson’s overdose prevention site

In Castlegar, which had its worse year for deaths in 2019 with four fatalities, the local food bank has begun handing out harm reduction items like pipes and foil to make up for a lack of services in the city.

Deb McIntosh, a former city councillor who runs the Castlegar Community Harvest Food Bank and emergency drop-in shelter, said the food bank had already been providing naloxone out of necessity.

“It’s not within our mandate and it’s not what we do but my god it’s needed, you know? So it’s just something that’s infuriating to me,” she said.

“It makes me so angry and so sad at the same time that people can’t get the services they need.”

McIntosh agreed with Sage that the pandemic has worsened, and overshadowed, the opioid crisis. She also said community members should avoid downplaying the number of local deaths compared to more populated areas.

“The fact remains that those four people in 2019 were somebody’s family members. Those statistics mean nothing when it’s your family member. It doesn’t matter if it’s four, it doesn’t matter if it is 400.”

Sage said she’s currently encouraging users to download a new app designed to prevent overdoses in isolation.

The Lifeguard app, which was made available for free to B.C. residents in May, can be downloaded to both Apple and Android phones.

It’s activated by users before they use, which prompts a 50-second timer. Once that timer goes off, the app sounds an alarm that the user has to press a button to stop. If they don’t respond, the alarm grows louder until after 75 seconds it contacts 911 about a potential overdose with the user’s location.

“A lot of people in drug user groups throughout the pandemic have actually started their own witnessing programs over the phone, doing this for each other,” said Sage.

“This is a more formal app to build on the work those folks have been doing for each other already, and it’s really awesome because if people are alone someone can be watching out for them.”


Three face charges in Nelson fentanyl busts

Overdose prevention, safe injection sites take extra precautions to mitigate COVID-19

Overdose deaths take time to report due to contributing factors, says Henry

VIDEO: Unique vending machine in Nelson offers syringes, naloxone

Illicit Drug Toxicity Deaths in BC by Tyler Harper on Scribd

@tyler_harper |

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusopioid deaths

Just Posted

A report shows nine West Kootenay communities are have more low-income persons than the provincial average. File photo
Study casts new light on poverty in the West Kootenay

Nine communities in region have more low-income residents than provincial average

A volunteer delivers food to families as part of a West Kootenay EcoSociety program. Photo: Submitted
Farms to Friends delivers 2,500th bag of food to families in need

The program services communities in the Nelson, Trail and Castlegar areas

Selkirk College has begun its search in earnest for a leader to replace president Angus Graeme who is set to retire from his position in May 2022. Photo: Submitted
Selkirk College seeks community input for president search

Current president Angus Graeme retires next year

Waneta Manor is located on Laburnum Drive in Trail. Photo: Sheri Regnier
Senior dies as Trail tenants continue wait for broken elevator to be fixed

The elevator in Waneta Manor has been out of commission since February

Adrian Moyls is the Selkirk College Class of 2021 valedictorian and graduate of the School of Health and Human Services. Photo: Submitted
Selkirk College valedictorian proves mettle in accomplishment

Adrian Moyls is a graduate of the School of Health and Human Services

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Most Read