Way more drug deaths this year than in 2016
Still no end in sight to overdose crisis, says regional health official
Across the Interior Health region, more people died from illicit drug overdoses in the first eight months of this year than in all of 2016, and officials don’t know when the overdose crisis will end.
From Jan. 1 to Aug. 31 this year, there were 173 overdose deaths across Interior Health, at a rate of 34.6 per 100,000 people, the BC Coroners Service said in its latest report.
During all of 2016, 162 people in the region died of drug overdoses, at a rate of 21.8 per 100,000 people.
In the Okanagan, 113 people died of drug overdoses from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31 this year, at a rate of 45.6 per 100,000 people.
The provincial average for drug overdose deaths was 31.6 per 100,000 people, with 1,013 people dead.
In Kelowna, 60 people died of drug overdoses between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, compared to the 47 people who died during all of last year. “The rate of overdose deaths continues to be alarming and very concerning to everyone in the health system, and certainly in Interior Health,” said Dr. Trevor Corneil, chief medical health officer with IH. “It speaks to the very negative impact or poisoning of the illicit drug system by fentanyl, and we don’t know where it’s going to stop.”
In Kelowna, fentanyl was detected in 85 per cent of overdose deaths between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31. That’s higher than the provincial average of 81 per cent.
“What’s interesting is in terms of who is overdosing,” said Corneil.
The number of people dying of drug overdoses on the streets is decreasing, while the number of people dying alone at home is increasing, he said.
One of the biggest issues in trying to reach those people is stigma around drug use and substance abuse, said Corneil, adding that often those people are unwilling to seek help for fear of speaking up.
It is estimated between 0.5 per cent and one per cent of the population in Kelowna uses illicit substances on a regular basis.
Another issue in dealing with the overdose crisis is the system does not have the capacity to help all of those people, said Corneil.
“Let’s say half those people want to come in for treatment . . . that is a monstrous caseload,” he said. “This is a crisis.”
Currently, officials within IH are working to find out what people with substance-abuse issues need, he said.
“We’re already exploring social media, different methods of reaching out, different types of interactions that are secure links between individuals and some of our providers.”
For 80 per cent of people who die of drug overdoses, primary reasons include mental-health disorders, socioeconomic status, community support and social networks, said Corneil.
“This is where we really need Kelowna to come up with a plan,” he said. “Enforcement, harm reduction, prevention, treatment, community, agencies, business associations, municipalities — it’s much bigger than health. Its a multifactorial problem.”