Overdose-death numbers lead to bulletin from health authority

In 2015, there were over 60 overdose-related deaths in the Interior Health Authority

Trevor Corneil

Trevor Corneil

By Dale Bass

Kamloops This Week

In 2008, there were only 20 overdose-related deaths in the Interior Health Authority (IHA) region.

Last year, the number had risen to 60.

In January this year alone, there were 15 overdose-related deaths in the IHA, including at least four in Kamloops.

The numbers “are out of the ordinary,” said Trevor Corneil, IHA’s senior medical officer of health, and have prompted the health authority to issue a regional bulletin addressing the concern.

Corneil noted the statistics are preliminary pending toxicology results from other deaths in recent weeks, a process that can take the province’s coroner’s office some time to complete.

The bulletin said no particular group is affected; the deaths are connected to those who use drugs recreationally and those dealing with addiction.

It said there is no specific bad batch of drugs, but the majority of overdoses being reported involved opioids like oxycontin and heroin. Eighty per cent also involved opiates.

“You hear about bad batches until it’s all bad,” Corneil said, although he noted at least one-third of the overdose deaths were either caused by fentanyl or the drug was found in toxicology screening. Most overdoses are caused by mixing substances including street and prescribed drugs and alcohol.

“We just want people to be aware because everyone is impacted,” Corneil said.

The IHA hopes to increase the number of hospital beds dedicated to substance abuse in the next couple of years. It also wants to add to the mental-health staffing. Corneil said the next step after harm reduction is finding ways to engage people and encourage them to take steps to address their substance use.

He said the IHA works with ASK Wellness, among other social agencies, to help with programming for drug-withdrawal management, opioid-replacement therapy, counselling and finding housing.

Naloxone kits — the drug that can reverse an opioid overdose — are also available at the Royal Inland Hospital emergency room and at other health-care facilities in the IHA region, including ASK Wellness.

Corneil said he’s expecting discussions to begin later this year with the public on potential safe-injection sites in the region, including Kamloops.