THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - Opioid overdose surveillance conducted at the Interior Health Authority’s three largest hospitals is already providing insights into how to deal with a surge in overdose deaths plaguing the region.
“For instance, we know about one third of cases overdosed in public spaces, which to me speaks to the need for supervised consumption services,” public health officer Dr. Silvina Mema says. “If people are injecting drugs in a public park or bathroom or shelter somewhere, that should help us decide on a service that fits the needs of the community."
Mema is the team leader in charge of the surveillance program and says it has identified 57 cases of opioid overdose presented primarily at Royal Inland hospital in Kamloops, Kelowna General Hospital and Vernon Jubilee Hospital between June 1 and August 3.
Royal Inland had about 40 per cent of the cases and Kamloops, despite being a smaller centre, has had 22 overdose deaths in the first six months of 2016.
Less than half the overdoses occured in private residences and most were daily drug users. Just 10 per cent were occasional or recreational drug users, she says.
Heroin is the most common opioid to overdose on but about 14 per cent of patients overdosed on an opioid for which they had a prescription, Mema adds.
“People who use drugs are usually interpreted by the public as being marginalized, illegally using drugs but that’s not always the case,” she adds.
Mema says the surveillance system is still new and is not set up to track overdose survivors after their initial contact with the emergency department.
“That is the next step we would like to take. There has been some serious outcomes to some of these cases,” she says.
Her initial reaction to the overdose data is to try to make even more available the opioid overdose-reversing drug naloxone.
The Take Home Naloxone program makes the drug available at all 30 primary care hospitals and community health centres in the health authority.
“The first thing I think is how can we strategically facilitate access to this medication where people will use it,” Mema says. “We have a record number of overdose deaths. Kamloops has tripled the number of deaths in half the time. We should be doing more. To have 64 deaths so far, that’s ten a month that are dying. It’s very sad because it’s preventable.”
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