Posted by Colin Heggie on Mar 09, 2021
Colleen McEwan, a Kelowna Rotarian hosted by Rob Irving, is Director of Interior Health’s North Okanagan Mental Health & Substance Abuse programs.  She described our ongoing Opioid Overdose Crisis, which took over 1,700 BC residents in 2020 – more than suicides, road accidents, homicides & prescription drug overdoses combined.  In fact, opioid deaths have mostly outnumbered Covid-19 fatalities.  Since BC declared opioid overdoses a crisis in 2016, well over $300m has been committed to save lives, end stigma & improve access to services.  These measures succeeded in reducing overdose deaths by 2019, but Covid-19 impacts have led to a resurgence in deaths.  Over 80% of victims are male; over half occur in private residences, & less than 15% outdoors.  Almost 100 of these deaths took place in Vernon in the past five years.  Lifesaving measures include naloxone, overdose prevention sites (32 in BC), & a “Lifeguard App” for solitary users.  Treatments include opioid agonist therapy, new treatment beds, outreach teams, attempts to improve the safety of the drug supply, & (tacit) decriminalization of small amounts of drugs for personal use.  Vernon’s Overdose Prevention Site was one of the last in BC to open, partially due to significant local resistance.  Colleen says we should assume more & more toxic levels of fentanyl are in all street drugs, & that marijuana is no longer considered a “gateway” drug to harder substances, any more than alcohol.  Many people get addicted to pain killers after surgery or rehab, then turn to illicit drugs when their physician stops writing prescriptions.  Additionally, some physicians & dentists tend to over-prescribe pain medication, leading to addiction.  Clearly, this is a multi-faceted problem, calling for a variety of evidence-based solutions.