Kelowna, Kamloops see record breaking number of illicit drug overdose deaths | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna, Kamloops see record breaking number of illicit drug overdose deaths

Illicit drug overdose deaths across B.C. continued an upward trajectory last month putting 2020 on track for being the deadliest year in recent history.

The BC Coroners Service reported 153 suspected drug toxicity deaths in November, which an 89% increase over November 2019.

Those new figures raise the total number of overdose deaths to 1,548 from the start of 2020 until the end of November. So far, only 2018 was worse and it had 1,549 deaths once the year wrapped up.

Locally, 55 people died of an overdose in Kamloops, 53 in Kelowna 53 and 23 in Vernon. By October, the death toll was 50 in Kamloops, 45 in Kelowna and 21 in Vernon. The coroners service doesn't provide numbers in Penticton due population size.

"The impacts of COVID-19 have been deadly for those experiencing problematic substance use," chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said.

Map of overdose numbers in B.C. as of November 2020.
Map of overdose numbers in B.C. as of November 2020.
Image Credit: BCCDC

"Ensuring access to critical harm reduction measures including naloxone, supervised consumption sites, overdose prevention sites and drug checking services are essential if we want to prevent future deaths. Providing those with substance use disorder access to pharmaceutical alternatives will be of immense benefit to reduce the harms and suffering resulting from the 'for-profit' illicit drug market."

Fentanyl or its analogues have continued to be detected in over 80% of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2020. Cocaine and methamphetamine are the next most commonly detected drugs.

The Canadian Association for Safe Supply is urging health decision makers in British Columbia to rapidly expand access to legal and regulated substances of known potency.

“For people using illicit fentanyl, prescribed fentanyl can be a lifesaver, prescribed heroin can be a lifesaver too, but decision-makers need to invest in these programs to make them a reality,” says Jordan Westfall, co-founder of CASS. 

Prescription fentanyl comes in a transdermal patch that is supposed to be worn on the skin. However, fentanyl patches are commonly injected or smoked, similar to how illicit fentanyl is used. Existing fentanyl-assisted treatment programs in British Columbia only allow participants to wear the patch on their skin, which is a major barrier for those who prefer injection use.

To fill the gap, CASS recently released the first “Ethical Fentanyl Prescriber” support tool, in order to encourage the off label prescribing of transdermal fentanyl patches.

The number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in November equals about 5.1 deaths per day. In 2020, 70% of those dying were aged 30 to 59. Males have accounted for 81% of deaths in 2020 to date. In 2020, 55% of illicit drug toxicity deaths have occurred in private residences.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 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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