Drug deaths still increasing at ‘alarming’ rate
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.