Overdose calls roughly doubled in Lake Country in 2020, according to the district’s Protective Services annual report.
Paramedics or firefighters responded to 47 overdoses in the community last year, up 96 per cent from 24 calls in 2019. There has now been a total of 153 calls in Lake Country since the overdose crisis was declared in 2016.
Province-wide data suggests the crisis has only gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. B.C. recorded 1,716 overdose deaths last year, according to a BC Coroners report, amounting to a 74 per cent increase over the previous year.
Fahmy Baharuddin, executive director of the Living Positive Resource Centre Okanagan, says drug supply chains have been impeded by cross-border travel restrictions, leading many to use substances that have been produced locally or, as a way of stretching out a thinner supply, have been cut with more potent substances like fentanyl.
“In Canada the supply (disruption) has meant there’s been more cases of fentanyl, there’s been more cases of (substances) being impure and harmful to the people who are using, and that basically translates to us as a service organization seeing more people wanting more information about their drugs,” Baharuddin said.
Headquartered in Kelowna with services throughout the Okanagan, Living Positive works a step back from the frontlines of the overdose epidemic, focusing on education and awareness, harm reduction, naloxone training and drug-checking services.
Baharuddin said people are fortunately taking preemptive steps to find out more about the drugs currently on the streets by getting in touch with his organization.
“We’ve been getting a lot more calls with people saying, ‘I have this drug that I’ve used before, I’m not quite sure what it is, it’s changed over the last year, would we be able to get more information.’”
Education is key when it comes to reducing overdoses, says Baharuddin, and it starts at the individual level with tools like naloxone training.
“As individuals we need to be aware, the same way we encourage people to know basic first aid or basic CPR,” Baharuddin said.
However, he added “a good chunk” of the responsibility is on the government to respond to recent spikes in drug toxicity-related deaths by decriminalizing substances linked to the overdose crisis, so as to improve the government’s ability to regulate those substances.
“That means the government has a bit more say in what goes on,” he said. “You look at alcohol; we know what’s in a can of beer because it’s controlled by the government.”
Locally, the Lake Country Health Planning Society offers harm reduction and other substance-related resources through the Health Hub. Its location at 10080 Main Street offers free naloxone kits, and staff can answer questions on how naloxone should be administered.
Baharuddin also points to drugchecking.ca, an Interior Health resource that helps people know what’s in the substances they use. The website is a collection of drug-checking locations in B.C. (including two in Vernon and four in Kelowna), paired with information regarding what drug-checking services entails.
For more information on the Living Positive Resource Centre, visit lprc.ca.