Pubdate: Thu, 01 Feb 2018
Source: Daily Courier, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2018 The Okanagan Valley Group of Newspapers
Author: Andrea Peacock
Page: A1


Health official says region needs to be able to treat more drug

With the second highest rate of illicit drug overdose deaths in the
province last year, the overdose crisis in the Okanagan remains
concerning and distressing, says chief medical health officer Trevor

"It means that everything we're doing, and we're doing a lot, is
clearly not enough," he said.

In the Okanagan, there were 150 overdose deaths, a rate of 40.8 per
100,000 people, in 2017, up from 77 deaths in 2016, a rate of 21.2 per
100,000 people, according to the BC Coroners Service report released

Vancouver had the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in 2017 at 52.8
per 100,000 people.

"In the Okanagan, we're experiencing the impact of the illicit drug
supply, and there is a significant number of people who use illicit
drugs from all walks of life," said Corneil.

Across the Interior Health region in 2017, there were 238 illicit drug
overdose deaths, a rate of 31.7 per 100,000 people.

This is up from 2016, when there were 165 drug overdose deaths, a rate
of 22.2 per 100,000 people.

In Kelowna, the number of overdose deaths increased to 75 in 2017 from
47 in 2016.

Kelowna had the fourth highest number of overdose deaths in the
province in 2017, behind Vancouver (358), Surrey (174) and Victoria

"In large part, that has to do with the fact we have a toxic substance
or poison in the illicit drug supply," Corneil said, referring to fentanyl.

Last year, fentanyl was detected in 84 per cent of overdose deaths in
Interior Health, 85 per cent of deaths in the Okanagan and 89 per cent
of deaths in Kelowna.

Corneil said there is a need to continue addressing stigma around drug
use along with increasing the capacity of substance-use treatment.

"We need to reach out and pull people in, and I think that has been
our challenge and continues to be a challenge as we move forward," he
said. "Once people start to come forward, we need the capacity to
offer them low-barrier treatment."

Despite the high number of deaths, Corneil said he remains

"What has really been a positive . . . has been the co-ordinated
effort at the regional level here at Interior Health to provide a full
spectrum of evidence-based care from harm reduction to low-barrier
treatment, through to high-barrier and more residential-type
treatment," he said. "We are doing some of everything, which I think
is a place that every health authority had to get to, and I'm happy to
say we were very early in the game in getting our harm-reduction
safe-consumption services up and running in the way we thought matched
our urban populations."

The question now is how the provincial and federal governments will
address the illicit drug supply, said Corneil.

Retiring provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall said
decriminalization of illicit drugsfuelling the crisis is needed, which
would allow users to access safer substances.

"At the very least, we should decriminalize the individuals who are at
risk in this epidemic," he said Wednesday.

Kendall said recent talks with the federal government to consider the
idea are encouraging.

But Dr. Patricia Daly, executive director and clinical lead for the
B.C. Overdose Emergency Response Centre, said any regulatory change
would not come soon enough.

"Even if (federal politicians) were to decide today they were going to
adopt a public-health regulatory approach to all psychoactive
substances, it would take too long to make a difference in this
particular crisis," she said.

However, Daly said she too saw "some glimmers of hope."

The overdose-reversing drug naloxone has been reported to have been
administered more than 14,000 times since the province began
distributing kits containing the life-saving drug, Daly said. The
province has said nearly 30,000 naloxone kits were handed out in 2017.

The number of overdose calls reported to emergency services also
outpaces the number of deaths, she said.

The final four months of 2017 also saw a slight dip in deaths. In the
first eight months of the year, the province was averaging four deaths
per day, but by the end of the year it was down to three deaths each

"We can't say that's a trend, but at least in the last four months
things are moving in a better direction," said Daly.

The province declared a state of emergency in April 2016 over the
crisis, prompting safe consumption sites to open across the province,
including in Kelowna last year.
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