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Overdose deaths prompt province to declare public health emergency

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April 14, 2016 - 12:40 PM


THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - Responding to a continuing surge in drug overdose deaths, including a startling increase in the Southern Interior, B.C.’s provincial medical health officer has declared a public health emergency.

Dr. Perry Kendall and health minister Terry Lake announced today, April 14, the first-ever use of the emergency power under the public health act and what they say is the first ever response by a Canadian province to the country-wide increase in illicit drug overdose deaths.

Kendall says the surge in overdose numbers just in the first part of 2016 puts B.C. on track for 700 to 800 deaths this year, almost double the record 476 in 2015.

The power would immediately allow the medical health officer to begin collecting much closer to real time information about live overdoses and overdose deaths in an effort to provide evidence-based solutions. He says all patient confidentiality would be respected and his office would work closely with the B.C. information and privacy commissioner.

“The recent surge in overdoses is a huge concern for us,” Health Minister Terry Lake says. “We have to do what is needed to prevent overdoses and deaths and what’s needed is real-time information."

The Interior Health Authority has been particularly hard hit, reporting 60 overdose deaths last year, a record in itself, but new numbers released today by the BC Coroner Service already show 39 deaths to the end of March, just three months into the year.

Kendall says the soaring numbers, which go beyond Metro Vancouver and into the Interior and Island health authorities, is part of the reason for declaring a provincial emergency.

Find past stories on drug overdoses here.

Find past stories on fentanyl here.

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