Pubdate: Wed, 07 Feb 2018
Source: Nelson Star (CN BC)
Copyright: 2018 Black Press
Author: Gary Poignant


The province's opioid crisis is truly frightening.

The death totals for 2017, released last week, are record-shattering -
with 1,422 dead in B.C., including 200 in the Interior Health region
and 19 in the Kootenay Boundary region.

About four out of five who died were male and almost nine out of 10
deaths occurred indoors.

The powerful opioid fentanyl was detected in 81 per cent of last
year's deaths compared to about 67 per cent in 2016.

And while the statistics are alarming, what is also surprising is the
cloak of secrecy that surrounds the releasing of information regarding
overdose deaths.

Last week IH reported nine people overdosed between January 23 and 27.
The home towns were not released, citing privacy provisions. The IH is
a huge area that covers 59 municipalities in the Kootenay, Okanagan,
Cariboo and Shuswap regions.

Outgoing provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall suggested the
high number of deaths in such a short period of time could have been
due to a new dealer entering the region "who doesn't know how to mix
the drugs in anything less than a dangerous way."

He stated they may have been part of a "trial batch" of the drug in
one area. Despite that, the names of the towns and cities affected
were not released due to privacy provisions.

That's wrong, says Helen Jennens, a Kelowna woman who has lost both of
her sons to overdoses.

"I don't understand why the health authority wouldn't release the
names of the towns where the deaths occurred," she said.

"You should make people aware and that you are at higher risk," said
Jennens, whose eldest son, Rian, died of a prescription drug overdose
in 2011 and then her other son, Tyler, died in 2016 when he
unwittingly took fentanyl that he thought was heroin.

Jennens is active with Moms Stop the Harm, a network of 300 grieving
parents pushing for many law changes, including the decriminalization
of drugs.

Dr. Trevor Corneil, VP Population Health and Chief Medical Health
Officer for IH, said health officials weigh several factors when it
comes to releasing the name of a town where an overdose victim died.

"If we feel the community is at risk then a decision would be made to
release the name of the town," said Corneil. In the past, IH has
released the name of a town or city if more than seven people died
within a short period of time.

Corneil said many factors are weighed and "you have to consider the
privacy of the family." He also said another reason to not release the
name of a town or city is because the death may end up being
classified weeks later by the coroner as something other than an overdose.

Jennens believes enforcing a privacy policy on such a broad scale
doesn't help at-risk people and even raises the stigma attached to the
opioid crisis.

"This becomes very stigmatized for people who might be casual users.
Everyone, not just those working with the street people, need to be
aware of what's out there."

An outreach worker in an interior B.C. town agrees with Jennens and
wishes health authorities would change its policy.

"It's counter-intuitive to not release the towns where people have
died. I don't understand why. By not releasing it, casual users won't
know if there is a bad batch out there."

"It gives publicity to the area where there may be a danger. Word of
mouth does travel quickly on the street. but releasing it publicly
would be that much better."

Statistics released last week showed about 90 per cent of the victims
in 2017 died while using drugs alone.

"These are marginalized members of society and we shouldn't be hiding
information like this from them" said the outreach worker, who also
said the secrecy creates a greater stigma.

Health officials are pulling out all the stops to try to curb the
crisis in B.C., including opening 10 overdose prevention sites and
offering workshops on how to administer Naloxone, the
overdose-reversing drug. Perhaps revisiting the privacy policy should
be added to that list.
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MAP posted-by: Matt