Fentanyl crisis: One in 20 drug users on a path to death

Rising number of deaths frustrating Interior Health officials

“Tragic. Outrageous. Phenomenally sad.”

Those are the words that Dr. Trevor Corneil used to describe the continually rising number of overdose deaths in Kelowna.

According to the most recent statistics from the BC Coroner’s office, the total number of fatalities rose to 32 in April. That means this city is well on a path to reaching over 100 deaths by the end of the year, which is more than double the number of deaths in 2016.

And by Corneil’s estimates, that means one of every 20 illicit drug users in Kelowna is on a path toward death.

“It really speaks to the stigma that surrounds drug use … we (at Interior Health) have really gone out of our way to do what we can in this emergency,” he said.

Despite all those efforts, they’re not seeing the results that would accompany a push to end lung disease or something similar.

“We are not seeing the reaction … we need the public to understand that people who use drugs are people and one-in-20 (drug users) dying in Kelowna is not acceptable.”

Thus far, the effort to slow the overdose death toll has included rolling out mobile OD prevention units, making take-home naloxone kits accessible and providing more substance use treatment for those residents at highest risk of an OD event.

Going forward, however, Corneil said that the most needed expenditure will be in the area of recovery treatment.

The question that lingers, however, is how government funding will roll out.

“As a health authority we are moving ahead anyway on this file,” the said. “This is a crisis. This is an emergency. We will spend what we are able to spend.”

The spending “envelope” that may exist in nine months, however, may look different depending on the government in power.

“(All three parties) have made it clear that mental health and substance use are areas they want to focus on … but the question I have is ‘how much?’” said Corneil.

“I need to see at the end of the day how much we as a society, are willing to invest in treatment. That’s our biggest gap now.

Every health authority needs more base funding to support those one in 200 persons who use.”