Some slight hope in overdose epidemic as monthly death numbers drop in Interior Health

Prescription pills are pictured in this June 20, 2012 photo.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy

THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - You know it's bleak when the best you can say about the the number of overdose deaths in Interior Health is they are increasing at a decreasing rate.

There were 16 overdose deaths in January within the Interior Health Authority service area, most of them in Kamloops, Kelowna and Vernon.

That number has dropped each month since then. In July and August, there were less than half that number, seven overdose deaths in each month, a trend senior medical health officer Dr. Trevor Corneil would love to see continue.

“It’s a hopeful indication of a change in the trend and that is the rate per 100,000 population is not increasing at the same levels,” Corneil said. “Seven a month is still enormously high compared to last year but the rate of increase is slowing. If we see this over several months it will become meaningful.”

Interior Health, like the rest of the province, is in the grip of an overdose epidemic. This year 488 people have overdosed in B.C.

The latest numbers from the B.C. Coroners Service show 80 people have died from accidental overdose within the health authority in 2016 already well over the 63 who died in 2015.

Corneil says the health authority’s largest centres are bearing the brunt of the overdose epidemic as shown by the overdose surveillance program in place since June 1 and current up to Sept. 10.

There have been 121 overdoses reported in the health authority since then. Kamloops has had 23 overdose deaths this year, less than Kelowna at 27, but with more live overdoses. No number is available for Vernon.

Most overdoses take place at home or in a public space and are affecting men (60 per cent) more than women (39 per cent).

Almost 50 per cent of people who overdoses reported being daily drug users and heroin was the most reported cause of overdoses with over 70. Fentanyl was reported in over 20 overdoses.

Corneil cautions the best that can be drawn from three months data is “associations” rather than conclusions.

Only on why Kamloops seems to be harder hit than Kelowna despite having a substantially smaller population does Corneil abandon caution.

“That’s not a surprise. Drugs tend to follow the transportation routes,” he says. “Kamloops is on the Trans-Canada and Kelowna is not. We often seen things show up in Kamloops a week or two before Kelowna."

Find past stories on the drug overdose crisis here.


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Editor's Note in response to allegations from Vernon RCMP Supt. Jim McNamara
Editor’s note: • Watch shifts at the Vernon detachment have fallen to as low as three roadable officers. • The department suffers from chronic understaffing. • Sources, who we trust and who have knowledge of the s

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