Drug overdose deaths saw an increase in May, according to the latest statistics from the BC Coroner’s Service.

IH Board to discuss escalating overdose crisis

Latest statistics for May show alarming trend in Kelowna, Penticton and Vernon.

Illicit drug overdose deaths continued to escalate in Kelowna, Vernon and Penticton, according to the latest BC Coroner’s Service statistics.

And the topic will be up for discussion this morning at the Interior Health board meeting. The board will hear the latest stats on overdose numbers and the latest attempts at harm reduction.

In May, there were 24 deaths reported within the IH region, which is the second highest monthly fatality count since December 2016.

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The number of OD deaths in Kelowna for this year is projected to be 80 per cent higher than in 2016, with projections for Vernon and Penticton seeing double the number of deaths compared to 2016.

In Kelowna there have been 36 overdose deaths recorded this year so far, compared to 48 for 2016, 19 in 2015 and 12 in 2014. For Vernon, the 2017 overdose death toll sits at 12 so far, already equaling the number recorded for 2016, and preceded by eight in 2015 and six in 2014

As of June 24, illegal drug overdose cases admitted to Kelowna General Hospital top the IH region at 235, compared to Royal Inland Hospital, 103; Vernon Jubilee Hospital, 82; and Penticton Regional Hospital, 41.

As the drug fatalities continue to mount, an Interior Health report continues to cite the top risks of an escalating OD deaths being the short- and long-term costs related to managing overdose recoveries. The report also states another major factor is people’s personal beliefs that may undermine efforts at helping the situation.

Dr. Silvina Mema, medical health officer for IH, said the health region is reaching out to find strategies to address the drug overdose issue that involve various stakeholders in communities it serves across southern B.C.

“This not just a medical health issue, it is a social policy issue that involves other players in a community all working together to find solutions,” said Mema, touching on issues such as affordable housing, poverty, unemployment, racism and crime.

Mema reiterated that overcoming social stigmas around providing safe consumption sites for drug addicts can also expedite new alternative solutions.

Carfentanil, a powerful derivative of fentanyl, has also been found throughout the IH region in screening of urine samples in Golden, Kamloops, Vernon and Williams Lake, and by Health Canada drug seizure analysis done in Kelowna, Vernon and Nelson.

So far, IH’s response has been to increase distribution of Naloxone kits to all acute and community access service points, and to institute the mobile overdose prevention/supervised injection service units in Kelowna and Kamloops.