Fentanyl and fentanyl-tainted drugs continue to drive overdoses across 100 Mile House and the South Cariboo.
Dr. Carol Fenton, Interior Health’s medical health officer, said that overdose numbers across the Interior are the same if not higher compared to last year. In 100 Mile House specifically, Fenton said paramedics have responded to four calls of drug poisoning this fall compared to six last year. While this sounds like a decrease she said this is still high considering the size of the South Cariboo’s population
“We’re still at record highs for overdoses across the Interior,” Fenton said. “The vast majority of deaths are found among people who have knowingly or unknowingly taken fentanyl. It’s a really potent substance that causes death by relaxation so extreme that stops your body’s drive to breathe.”
Fenton said those who overdose on fentanyl often relax to the point of falling asleep before they eventually stop breathing.
100 Mile RCMP Staff Sgt. Kevin Smith said that since the government’s move to decriminalize small quantities of drugs RCMP officers have been called out to fewer overdoses. People now view overdoses as a matter for paramedics, not police, to attend.
“Instead of enforcement of possessions of drugs, we’ve really switched to education of the health issues with addiction. We continue to work towards educating the general public and helping people who are struggling to get the resources they require,” Smith said. “In 100 Mile House, we haven’t had an increase in overdose deaths but I understand other areas of the province have seen an increase.”
According to the B.C. Coroner Service there have been two suspected fatal overdoses in 100 Mile House this year, compared to three in 2022.
Smith encourages the community to still call the RCMP when an emergency occurs as police can still help in these situations. RCMP officers all carry naloxone kits in their cruisers which could potentially save the life of someone overdosing on fentanyl.
“I always want to encourage people to call police if they see someone in an emergency,” Smith said. “If a person is overdosing I’d still want the public to call to make sure that person is ok.”
The B.C. Public Health Emergency regarding opioid overdoses was originally declared in 2016. However, the emergency has worsened noticeably since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re not quite able to explain all the reasons why at this point, but we’re seeing that more of the unregulated street supply has unpredictable potency,” Fenton said. “Recently we saw what appeared to be prescription dilaudid but turned out to be a fake medication that had an opioid analog that’s not fentanyl but just as deadly. It’s really hard to keep people safe if they’re taking unregulated substances that aren’t directly from a pharmacist.”
Adults, 19-59, are most impacted by the toxic drug crisis, Fenton said. Interior Health has noted more overdose poisonings among men than women, at a three-to-one rate, while Indigenous women are far more likely than non-Indigenous women to overdose. About half of those dying from overdoses are employed, with half of those deaths being people working in the trades or construction industry.
To prevent deaths, Fenton said Interior Health is working to provide those with substance abuse issues resources to manage the risks of using unregulated drugs. This includes never using alone or using the Lifeguard App, which when activated will prompt you every few minutes to press a button. If you lose consciousness and don’t press the button it will call 911 for you.
Fenton said IH also provides drug-checking services. Users can submit a small sample of their drug to IH which will test it for fentanyl and other toxic substances. This has the added benefit of allowing IH to monitor the illegal drug supply. A take-home test is also available at the 100 Mile District General Hospital.
“People use for a variety of reasons and if they are ready to seek treatment, there’s a variety of different treatment options. We have a virtual at home service as well as many in-person and out-patient services,” Fenton said. “They can call 310-MHSU and that number is a one-stop shop to get started.”