VERNON - More people died of an illicit drug overdose in Vernon in 2016 than in any of the past ten years.
That statistic, and other troubling figures were shown to Vernon City Council during a presentation by Interior Health Authority senior medical health officer Trevor Corneil today, Jan. 23.
“You can see Vernon, unfortunately, experienced 13 overdose deaths,” Corneil said of 2016.
Aside from 2013, when there were 11 deaths, the total is significantly higher than the number of deaths reported annually since 2007, when there were just three.
Between June 1 and Dec. 31, 2016, Vernon Jubilee Hospital reported 108 non-fatal opioid overdoses. Corneil noted the number is quite high, but attributed that in part to Vernon’s successful hospital reporting system.
“We think they’re over-represented,” Corneil said.
He said there has been an increase over the past three to four months specifically, a trend also seen in Penticton. That’s likely due to the drug fentanyl, which has been detected in 60 per cent of overdose deaths across the province, making its way into smaller communities.
Corneil said most of the people over dosing and finding themselves in the Vernon Jubilee emergency department are men, at 68 per cent. Thanks to a new reporting policy, over dose patients are now asked a series of questions including what drug they consumed and where they took it, to help authorities understand the deadly trend. More than half (60 per cent) reported taking heroin, and 14 per cent fentanyl. Roughly a third overdosed on the street or in another public space. Many people are using at home or indoors by themselves, which can be dangerous, Corneil said.
“If you’re alone in your house you’re not going to get to the phone in time to call 911,” Corneil said.
In response to the rising number of deaths, the province rolled out an education and prevention campaign, including raising awareness about the life-saving overdose reversal drug naloxone. Health authorities are also focussing on substance use treatment and the introduction of supervised consumption services in Kamloops and Kelowna. In addition to providing a safer environment for drug users to consume, Corneil said the sites would also serve as a touch point to connect people with other services.
Despite these efforts, Corneil said the death toll is not going away.
“I don’t see us getting ahead of this any time soon unfortunately,” Corneil said.
Coun. Scott Anderson asked Corneil what municipal governments could do about the issue.
“I think it’s really the concept that people have to be compassionate,” Corneil said.
He added that elected officials are often neutral on topics like these, and that in his opinion, supporting and promoting evidence-based strategies is important.
Read more stories about the overdose crisis here.
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