Drug deaths still in­creas­ing at ‘alarm­ing’ rate

The Daily Courier - - OKANAGAN - By AN­DREA PEA­COCK

Drug over­dose deaths con­tinue to rise across the Okana­gan and In­te­rior Health at an “alarm­ing” rate, says med­i­cal health of­fi­cer Dr. Silv­ina Mema.

In March, there were 22 il­licit drug over­dose deaths across In­te­rior Health, up from 18 in Fe­bru­ary and com­pared to 12 over­dose deaths in March 2016, ac­cord­ing to a BC Coroners Ser­vice re­port re­leased Wed­nes­day.

From Jan­uary to March 31 this year, the Okana­gan saw a more than 50 per cent in­crease in il­licit drug over­dose death rates com­pared to 2016.

In the Okana­gan, there were 37 over­dose deaths in the first three months of the year, at a rate of 39.9 per 100,000 peo­ple; in Kelowna, there were 24 over­dose deaths dur­ing the same time pe­riod.

Last month, there were two fewer over­dose deaths in Kelowna than in Fe­bru­ary, down to seven, but deaths in­creased by three in the Okana­gan, up to 15.

“It’s not look­ing very promis­ing as per the first few months of this year,” said Mema. “It’s alarm­ing. We are putting a lot of ef­fort into work­ing on the over­dose re­sponse, and the num­ber of deaths con­tin­ues to in­crease.”

On April 14, 2016, B.C.’s provin­cial health of­fi­cer de­clared a pub­lic health emer­gency in re­sponse to the ris­ing num­ber of drug over­doses.

“We be­gan work­ing, hop­ing that we would put in seven months of hard work then see re­sults, and un­for­tu­nately that’s not hap­pen­ing in terms of deaths,” said Mema.

“Although we don’t see it re­flected in num­bers of over­dose deaths, there has been a lot of work be­ing done to­wards im­prov­ing the in­for­ma­tion we have on the peo­ple who are at risk of over­dos­ing.”

IH has been fo­cus­ing on in­creas­ing ac­cess to nalox­one, a med­i­ca­tion that can re­verse the ef­fects of an opi­oid over­dose, im­prov­ing ac­cess to treat­ment and ex­pand­ing over­dose preven­tion ser­vices.

In­te­rior Health is also work­ing on form­ing an ad­vi­sory group with the City of Kelowna, said Mema.

“I am op­ti­mistic, be­cause we are mak­ing progress in many ar­eas,” she said.

“We are mak­ing ef­forts to un­der­stand the per­spec­tives of peo­ple who are liv­ing in the streets or peo­ple who are us­ing drugs; we are talk­ing to them and we are try­ing to em­power them to tell us what they need for us to help them.”

Across B.C., fen­tanyl was de­tected in 61 per cent of il­licit drug over­dose deaths in Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary.

In that time, fen­tanyl was de­tected in 23 of the drug over­dose deaths across In­te­rior Health — 15 deaths in the Okana­gan and 12 in Kelowna.

“It’s never a good time, but this is the worst pos­si­ble time to be try­ing drugs and ex­per­i­ment­ing with drugs,” said Mema. “Drugs on the streets are poi­soned with fen­tanyl or with other toxic lethal sub­stances and are killing peo­ple.”

Kelowna’s mo­bile over­dose preven­tion site is set to hit the streets by the end of April, when the El­lis Street lo­ca­tion is sched­uled to close.

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