Regional directors get earful on overdose deaths

By on January 23, 2018

A patient is brought into South Okanagan General Hospital from an ambulance on a stretcher in this file photo. From June 1, 2016 to Nov. 30, 2017, SOGH reported 15 suspected opioid overdose visits. (Lyonel Doherty file photo)

After Vancouver, Interior Health has the second highest rate of illicit drug overdose deaths per population.

This alarming statistic was a sobering thought for regional district board members after hearing a presentation by health professionals on Thursday.

Administrator Rae Samson and medical health officer Dr. Silvina Mema said fentanyl is considered the cause or “poison” that is overwhelming the illicit drug supply.

BC Coroners Service data show a steady increase in deaths across the province                 since 2007. For example, the statistics indicate that Interior Health experienced a rate of five overdoses per 100,000 population in 2007, compared to 33 in 2017.

In 2007, overdose deaths in the Okanagan totaled 13. Last year the death toll was 126.

A state of public health emergency was declared in April of 2016 in response to a sharp increase in overdose deaths in BC. Between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2016, the province saw 935 overdose deaths, representing an 80.5 per cent increase over 2015.

From June 1, 2016 to Nov. 30, 2017, Kelowna General Hospital reported more than 350 suspected opioid overdose visits.

South Okanagan General Hospital in Oliver reported about 15. Penticton Regional Hospital reported about 175.

How many people are dying?

In Kelowna, there were 66 deaths from Jan. 1 to Oct. 31, 2017. Interior Health reports this number is 70 per cent higher than 2016 figures.

In Kamloops, there were 37 deaths during the same time period.

Who is overdosing?

Interior Health reports that males aged 20-49 are overdosing; this age group represents 67 per cent of all overdose deaths versus 17 per cent of the total population.

According to the health authority, First Nations are three times more likely to die of overdose compared to non-First Nations.

Statistics show that 47 per cent of overdose deaths occur in the user’s own home, while 13 per cent occur outdoors.

Interior Health says the cause of the overdose crisis is the drug fentanyl. It adds that the underlying cause of this “epidemic” is substance abuse, with mental health disorders and chronic pain as contributing factors.

Interior Health has responded by distributing nearly 4,000 naloxone (overdose prevention) kits for people to take home. It has also conducted more than 12,000 client visits and provided numerous outpatient addiction services, in addition to opioid therapy programs in 16 communities.

Interior Health is currently developing an injectable opioid agonist treatment program for users. It hopes to prototype this program in Kelowna by March.

According to the Ministry of Health, this treatment program has proven to be the most effective approach to supporting abstinence from illegal and non-medical opioid use, while also reducing mortality.


Special to the Times


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  1. Gordon

    January 19, 2018 at 12:01 pm

    Thank you
    Excellent article!
    Keep up the good reporting

    • Susan

      January 20, 2018 at 7:51 pm

      Agreed, a very succinct piece, and a very well written article. Well done, this is good journalism.

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