FENTANYL CRISIS: Health officials consider stepping up overdose prevention services in Vernon, Penticton - InfoNews

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FENTANYL CRISIS: Health officials consider stepping up overdose prevention services in Vernon, Penticton

February 09, 2017 - 8:00 PM

VERNON - Rising overdose numbers have health officials plotting their next plan of attack against a deadly drug trend sweeping into smaller cities in the Interior, like Vernon and Penticton.

The Interior Health Authority isn’t yet throwing around the words ‘safe consumption site’ for communities like Vernon, Penticton, Nelson and Castlegar, but it is starting to do feasibility assessments for enhanced overdose prevention services in those cities, according to senior medical health officer Dr. Trevor Corneil. 

“The data is beginning to show that high potency drugs such as fentanyl are making their way further into the Interior,” Corneil says.

There were 13 deaths attributed to illicit drug overdoses in Vernon last year, plus another 108 non-fatal overdoses that were reversed at Vernon Jubilee Hospital.

“Those are concerning numbers,” he says.

In Penticton, the numbers are still low enough that they don’t show on the B.C. Coroner Service’s running tally of overdose deaths, but health officials confirm the trend is rising there too.

Corneil says the health authority is identifying hotspots in the region, evaluating current overdose prevention services, and looking at ways to step up resources in communities grappling with the issue.

“We see these as hotspots that we need to address,” Corneil says.

In two of the region’s larger centres, Kelowna and Kamloops, the health authority is applying to Health Canada for mobile safe drug consumption sites. To date, no applications have been pursued in Vernon or Penticton.

In Vernon specifically, the alarming overdose trend is growing more apparent. For the first time in recent memory — if ever — Vernon library staff had to phone 911 twice in one week when patrons were found overdosing in the bathroom. Meanwhile, the Upper Room Mission in Vernon is increasingly turning to naloxone to reverse overdoses among their clients — something they’ve never had to do before.

Corneil says it’s difficult to predict when the overdose crisis might level off, but he expects the numbers to increase in the Interior in 2017. He’s says it’s possible the health authority will look at the concept of a safe consumption site for Vernon in the future.

“I think we’ll look at that and if we find that supervised consumption is something that we feel would be helpful in Vernon then absolutely we would consider that,” Corneil says.

For now, the health authority will look at enhancing the services that already exist by expanding outreach, education and awareness. Once the feasibility assessment is complete, the health authority will then consult with stakeholders, including local organizations and the municipality.

“We have to see what works and then take that to the community. I see that occurring in the next few months,” Corneil says.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 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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