The BC Coroners Service has released the year end numbers for illicit drug deaths, and across the province, every region shows an increase from the previous year. This past December alone a total of 142 people died of illicit drug use. The total for the year is 914, an increase of almost 80 per cent over the previous year.
Here in the East Kootenay, while the small numbers reflect a much smaller population, the number is still much higher than 2015. In 2016, nine people in the East Kootenay died of drug overdose. In 2015 there were two deaths in this region.
“The numbers are a sad reflection of the reality of the opioid abuse problem that is happening nationally,” said Dean Nicholson from East Kootenay Addiction Services Society.
“It is important to note that at least two of the people who overdosed were under 25. Until recently it was very rare to see young people dying of opioid overdoses, but this has become more frequent with the introduction of fentanyl.”
The BC Coroners Service did not release a new report on the proportion of deaths in which fentanyl was detected as it does not yet have available the year-end fentanyl detected data for 2016. It is anticipated that data will be available sometime in March.
The year-end data show that more than half of all illicit drug deaths involved persons between the ages of 30 and 49. Four out of five who died were male.
“The simplest way to have fewer deaths would be to have fewer people using opioids,” Nicholson said. “Unfortunately, people can choose to engage in behaviours which they know can put them at risk. Even people who are not using opioids are inadvertently being exposed to fentanyl that has been mixed with other drugs. Deaths could also be reduced if more users went on an Opioid Replacement Program with Suboxone or Methadone. Currently EKASS operates a telehealth clinic which connects opioid users with a prescribing doctor in Kamloops. Having more local doctors prescribing Suboxone or Methadone would make it easier for people to access these programs.
“We recognize that those who are suffering from drug dependency are not going to be able to abstain immediately from drug use.,” said chief coroner Lisa Lapointe. “Given the increasing risk of contaminated drugs and the growing number of fatalities, though, we urge them to use illicit drugs only in the presence of medical expertise or, at the very least, a sober person with access to, and training in, the use of naloxone.
“For those who are not drug dependent, we strongly advise you to avoid experimentation and the casual use of illicit drugs. The risks are now unmanageable.”
“I believe that the East Kootenay region has been very proactive in getting Naloxone kits out to at-risk individuals in the community,” said Nicholson. “As you are aware, Naloxone kits can help reverse an overdose, providing time for people to get proper medical attention. Kits are also being provided to family members of people who may at risk. Local schools are also being trained and have kits onsite in the unlikely event that an overdose should happen at school.
“Hopefully continued public and media awareness of the very real dangers of this new trend in opioid use will encourage people to rethink their risk behaviours.”