Vernon council got the cold, hard facts on the opioid crisis at their meeting Monday.
Representatives from Interior Health outlined the provincial and local situation, which involved over 14-hundred illicit drug overdose deaths in BC last year.
Dr. Karin Goodison, medical health officer, says Vernon had 20 fatal overdose cases in 2017.
“Vernon is the third most concerning city of all the cites in Interior Health (behind Kelowna and Kamloops), and over the last four years, there are certainly climbing overdose death rates,” said Goodison.
Goodison says 81 percent of the BC deaths last year involved fentanyl, which is mixed with regular drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin.
“Opioids impact the body by causing things to slow down significantly, and what kills people is respiratory depression, so people basically stop breathing.”
Vernon has one of the 18 community action teams in BC, looking for solutions to the opioid crisis.
It will be led locally by the Harm Reduction Team or HART, guided by Partners in Action and the Social Planning Council.
Cities with the teams can apply to the province for up to 100-thousand dollars in funding for support programs and other measures.
Interior Health Harm reduction coordinator Jessica Bridgeman told council, while fentanyl can make the drugs deadly, there is still a demand for it.
“So while it is harmful, and death is, as we can quite apparently see, unfortunately not a deterrent, it contributes to it staying around. It’s a strong, potent opiate,” said Bridgeman.
Most of the deaths last year were men aged 30 to 49, and the majority occurred inside residences.
Councillor Juliette Cunningham noted some smaller communities in the North Okanagan are also dealing with the issue.
“It’s a crisis. The biggest thing is reducing the stigma (of using drugs). It’s hard to admit they have this problem,” said Cunningham.
Goodison says all communities who are dealing with the crisis can apply to the province for funding.
(Photo courtesy of CNN)