BC Emergency Health Services in Kelowna experienced a record number of overdose calls in 2021.
The local Emergency Health Service received 1,588 calls over the past year, due to the pandemic causing social instability and the “dirty drug” supply, says Outreach Urban Health Center in Kelowna, an organization that provides access to medication and counseling for people struggling with addiction.
The prevalence of “dirty drugs” containing multiple substances has been an increasingly common and dangerous problem in Kelowna.
The combination of opioids and benzos is more dangerous than either drug when consumed on its own. The mix of opioids and benzos poses a high risk of respiratory depression, sedation, and overdose causing death.
“It has been noted that the illicit fentanyl drug supply is increasingly containing benzodiazepines and benzodiazepine analogue adulterants,” said Dr. Britt-Heidi Bailey, a Kelowna emergency medicine resident physician.
“The use of opioids with benzodiazepines significantly increases the risk of respiratory depression, overdose, and death. Additionally, naloxone the antidote to opioid overdose is not effective against the sedative effects of benzodiazepines.”
Analogues of a drug are similar in their function and impact on the body.
Naloxone, which is used to treat overdose caused by opioids, is ineffective in the treatment of benzo overdose.
Overdoses can be called in by witnesses or through the Lifeguard app, which allows the drug user to record what substances they are taking, their address and set a timer. If the user doesn’t turn off the timer, it will begin to blare – alerting people nearby – and then call 911 for paramedics or firefighters to respond to the address. Police are not alerted.
According to BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) data released Wednesday (Jan. 12), calls have been steadily rising over the years.
B.C. declared the overdose crisis a public health emergency in 2016.
Every health authority in the province saw an increase in overdose calls with the highest in Fraser Health. Vancouver Coastal health saw calls increase by 24 per cent to 11,204, Fraser Health saw calls increase by 45 per cent to 10,573, Island Health saw calls increase by 32 per cent to 5,917, Interior Health saw calls increase by 29 per cent to 5,417 and Northern Health saw calls increase by 16 per cent to 2,414.