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Premier says no plans to track deadly surge in B.C. drug overdoses

A collection of different brands and dosages of the Fentanyl patch are seen.
Image Credit: (AP / Tom Gannam)
April 06, 2016 - 9:00 PM


THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - The B.C. government has no plans to create a central registry of live and fatal overdoses, despite the rise of fentanyl and a surge in overdose deaths locally and across the province in 2015.

Real-time tracking would allow public health offiicals to respond much more rapidly to a rash of overdoses than the current patchwork system which is different in each health authority and can take weeks to provide relevant information. Health officials have already acknowledged that's the only way they can respond in time to dangerous new drugs like fentanyl, a powerful opioid much stronger than heroin. It's been pouring into the country and caught users and the health system off-guard. It its wake are dozens of overdose deaths in local communities.

When asked about the lack of a registry during a recent media scrum in Kelowna, Premier Christy Clark did not have a ready answer, deferring instead to the provincial health ministry through her press secretary.

Government communications officer Laura Heinze responded for Clark and confirmed in an email there is no central registry and no standard way of reporting them but said there are practices underway in all five heath authorities to gather information and help spread the word of an unusual spike in overdoses, live or dead.

“Health authorities reach out to the public and their partners when these trends are noticed, as happened recently in several Interior Health communities,” Heinze wrote.

She said the government is working with organizations such the B.C. Coroners Service, regional health authorities and police forces which she says have all issued warnings there could be heroin or other street opioids circulating which contain fentanyl.

Heinze also said provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall has asked healthcare workers to be on the lookout for potential overdoses and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control is running a surveillance and early-warning network to issue alerts about fentanyl in the illicit drug market.

B.C. Coroners Service, in its 2015 report on overdose deaths, shows a 27 per cent increase in fatal overdoses to 465 across the province. Of those, the coroner reports 30 per cent involved fentanyl alone or in combination with other drugs.

That numbers masks local statistics that are even more alarming:The Interior Health Authority saw a 30 per cent jump in overdose deaths. Kelowna’s overdose deaths rose 40 per cent while Vernon’s rate climbed 50 per cent. Kamloops saw no increase but still managed to make the list of cities with five or more overdose deaths in 2015.

Find past stories on overdoses here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email John McDonald or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016
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