January 26, 2016 - 8:00 PM
THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - Overdose deaths from illicit drugs have jumped up 30 per cent over last year within the Interior Health Authority, according to a new report from the B.C. Coroners Service.
Inside that grim statistic, which is outpacing the provincial average, are even worse local numbers. Kelowna’s overdose death rate has climbed almost 40 per cent to 17 laster year, up from 12 in 2014, while Vernon saw a 50 per cent increase, to nine from six.
Kelowna’s number puts it into the same catagory as much bigger cities such as Burnaby (16) and Victoria (17).
Kamloops saw one less overdose death last year, seven instead of eight, but still managed to make the coroner’s list of 16 B.C. communities with five or more such deaths in 2015.
“This is certainly not a stat to celebrate,” coroner Barb McLintock says. “We want people in every region in the province to realize how they are taking a risk every time the take an illicit drug. Every time you do it, it’s a gamble and it seems that more than ever, we don’t know what’s in it these days.”
McLintock says her organization does not track anything but overdose deaths and says that number only represents a small part of the problem because people who overdose but recover in hospital or on their own are not recorded.
“In that sense, we’re like the canary in the coal mine, but we’re only seeing the tip of the problem,” she says.
As one indicator, the emergency room at Kelowna General Hospital sees between one and five overdoses a week. Those overdoses are a result of a variety of different drugs including prescription and recreational drugs as well as alcohol, Interior Heatlh Authority Senior Medical Health Officer Dr. Trevor Corneil, says. The vast majority are not fatal.
The provincial death rate per 100,000 population for overdose deaths was 9.9 in 2015. The rate in the local health authority was 6.2.
Fentanyl was found alone or with other drugs in 30 per cent of overdose deaths last year, a number which has climbed steadily since 2012 when it was implicated in just five per cent of illicit drug overdose deaths.
Locally, fentanyl was suspected in some drug overdoses and deaths in the South Okanagan last fall.
McLintock says people and organizations in all health regions can take away the same message.
“Your social agencies, your police and public health agencies need to recognize you have an illicit drug problem,” she adds. “They need to figure out what is causing the numbers in this report."
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016