Opioid crisis deaths filling Victoria’s hospital crypts


B.C.’s opioid fatality crisis is at the point where the BC Coroners Service needs a list of available Victoria body storage facilities to handle the dead when hospital crypts are full.

The capital is ranked with Vancouver and Surrey as the cities having the highest opioid deaths in 2020. As of October 31, there have been 155 fatalities in Victoria, almost double 2019’s 62 deaths. For 2016, 2017 and 2018, those fatality numbers were, respectively, 68, 94 and 97.

A request for standing offer (RSO) for such a facility was re-issued Dec. 1 (originally dated Jan. 23), the document saying the availability of crypt spaces had declined to the point by 2018 where it was causing logistical issues for coroners.

“Of note, beginning in 2016 the number of illicit drug overdose deaths across British Columbia markedly increased,” the RSO said. “These overdoses likely contributed to and may continue to drive increased need for space.

To cope with the problem, the service in 2018 contracted with Qualicum Beach Memorial Services located in Qualicum Beach and Evergreen Cremation Centre located in Ladysmith for body storage.

“When morgue spaces in the Victoria area become critically low, BCCS has transported decedents for storage at these sites,” the RSO said.

The service seeks either body storage facilities or both storage and toxicology sample drawing services. Samples are taken as part of coroners’ death investigations.

The RSO requests services on an as, if and when-requested basis.

Asked if the opioid crisis was affecting other areas of the province and how the COVID-19 pandemic was affecting storage of bodies, the service said in a statement it “routinely issues (request for proposals) to ensure secure, respectful storage of the deceased as required.”

“Mortuary capacity in hospitals across the province varies on a daily and weekly basis due to a number of factors, including deaths due to illicit drug toxicity, and this additional space ensures that storage is available as needed in geographically appropriate locations,” the statement said.

Victoria is in the Island Health Authority region. Glacier Media has reached out to all health regions to determine the effects of both the opioid and COVID-19 crises.