Naloxone can be used to counteract the effects of an opioid overdose, of which are on the rise valley-wide. (File photo)

Suspected overdose, poisoning calls jump in Okanagan

BCEHS statistics show calls rose last year in Kelowna, Penticton and Vernon

The opioid crisis is striking hard in Vernon.

According to statistics from B.C. Emergency Health Services, their ambulance paramedics were dispatched to 322 suspected overdose and poisoning calls in Vernon last year, up from 170 in 2016, for an increase of 89 per cent.

By comparison, Kelowna numbers increased to 1,040 from 785 for an increase of 32 per cent, Penticton saw numbers go to 220 from 157 for a 40 per cent increase and the province as a whole saw 23,441 calls for an increase of 21.6 per cent.

Interior Health collects data from BCEHS, BC Coroners Service and self-reported.

“If we compare data, we are seeing an increase but not as substantial (as BCEHS statistics),” said Dr. Karin Goodison, Interior Health medical health officer, adding that Interior Health collects data from BCEHS and the BC Coroners Service for their reports. “We are seeing an increasing trend despite the number of initiatives.”

Overdose data acquired at the hospital indicates a decrease in overdose numbers from June to December 2017 compared to the same time frame in 2016. However, Goodison said, there may be instances of under reporting and those who call ambulances for suspected overdose can refuse transportation to emergency facilities.

Related: Ex-B.C. health minister says pot promising substitute for opioid addiction

“The overall picture we’re seeing is Vernon is unfortunately following the same pattern seen across B.C. like in Vancouver and Kelowna,” Goodison said.

According to the BC Coroners Service, the Okanagan region as a whole saw 151 illicit drug overdose deaths in 2017, up from 77 in 2016. Fentanyl was detected in 128 of those 151 illicit drug overdose deaths.

An Interior Health 12 month overdose surveillance report, which gathered data from March 1, 2017 to Feb. 27, 2018, suggests that the largest numbers of overdoses are occurring in Vernon, Kelowna and Kamloops.

As part of the overdose emergency response process, Goodison said, people are on the ground in those cities to increase efforts to fight the crisis.

“I think we can get lost in the numbers and forget the individuals this impacts,” Goodison said. “It’s having a real big impact on communities. There are some very poisonous, damaging drugs circulating.”

Furthermore, Goodison said, it’s important to realize that addiction is a medical issue and should be treated as such.

Related: Researcher wants to change the way Canadians talk about drugs

Goodison said that those who use drugs should ensure that they have access to a naloxone kit and not use drugs while alone.

Related: Vernon School District proactive in drug prevention


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