Way more drug deaths this year than in 2016

Still no end in sight to over­dose cri­sis, says re­gional health of­fi­cial

The Daily Courier - - FRONT PAGE - By AN­DREA PEA­COCK

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.”


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