The first mobile drug overdose services clinic in B.C. is expected to have a street presence in Kelowna by the end of April.
The mobile clinic vehicle has arrived in Kelowna with relevant local health care stakeholders given a tour of it last week.
Dr. Trevor Corniel, medical health officer for Interior Health, says the application has now also been made to Health Canada for an exemption to allow the clinic to also serve as a safe injection site.
Corniel said a decision from Ottawa is expected on that application likely sometime this summer.
Corniel indicated Kamloops will have its own mobile clinic in May or June, with Kelowna being the initial priority because the lease on the current drug overdose services centre on Ellis Street will expire at the end of this month.
“We are still in the midst of planning the details on exactly how people will be processed through the mobile clinic and where it will be located,” said Corniel, noting that locations in Rutland and downtown Kelowna will be initial priorities.
“We hope to see activity with it up and going in the next few weeks because of the lease running out at the Ellis Street facility at the end of April.”
Speaking to the Interior Health board on Tuesday, Corniel said what B.C. is doing in response to the rising number of illicit drug deaths, fueled by fentanyl and carfentanil drug use, is being watched by health care officials across the country.
“This is not a national response. Everyone is watching us. The other interesting point is other provinces are not acknowledging the impact of fentanyl,” said Corniel, adding that carfentanil is 100 times more potent that morphine or fentanyl.
He cited the example of Ontario which is focused on drug abuse surrounding prescribed opiates, creating a lack of research efforts underway specifically to address the possible rise of fentanyl use.
In our province, keeping tabs on emergency room drug overdose cases and toxicology testing on drug abuse fatalities are providing the background research that leads to health policy initiatives.
“When the prime minister was here in B.C. some weeks ago, he publicly acknowledged his understanding of that issue, so it will be interesting to see how other provincial health ministers change their approach to the problem.”
Corniel said provincial statistics indicate since illicit drug overdose deaths took an alarming spike in December to nearly 30, the numbers for January and February have levelled off to what was seen beginning last September, between 15 and 25.
Prior to then, the numbers were consistently below 10.
Corniel said Kelowna and Kamloops continue to lead IH communities in illicit drug overdose deaths in 2017, registering 17 and seven respectively. Kelowna trails only Victoria with 16, Surrey 23 and Vancouver 74.
Corniel said the ultimate solution to drug abuse fatalities involves a paradigm shift to control the environment where people inject themselves under medical supervision, coupled with the opportunity that interaction provides to discuss education and drug treatment options before and after what is about a 20-minute injection process.
“It’s a policy that can be hard for many to get their head around, but if you frame safe injection sites within the context of longer term treatment options…it has been shown to be the cheapest and most effective option for dealing with drug abuse,” Corniel said.
“The question is when will B.C. be ready to ramp that up and how that idea fits in with the national health care picture.”