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Okanagan paramedics respond to 1600 calls for suspected overdoses so far in 2017

Despite the implementation of harm reduction measures and a province-wide state of emergency, drug users continue to die at an alarming rate in the Okanagan.

In Kelowna alone, fifty people have lost their lives in the first seven months of this year, compared to 47 in all of 2016.

Health officials say at this rate, the number of overdose deaths will likely double this year over last.

“That’s very concerning for us and it shows that this crisis is not over,” said Chief Medical Health Officer, Dr. Trevor Corneil.

Paramedics in the Okanagan have responded to 1600 calls this year for suspected overdoses.

That is double the call volume compared to three years ago.

“Our crews are seeing substantial increases in the calls that they receive for opioid overdoses,” said paramedic Glenn Braithwaite.

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Despite the operation of a mobile consumption site, thousands of cases of Naloxone distributed, and hundreds of referrals for treatment, Kelowna’s death rate per capita exceeds that of Vancouver.

Corneil said stigmatization around drug use prevents professionals and parents from seeking help.

The majority of overdoses occur in private homes.

“We’re really moving this year towards that hidden population looking at how we can reduce stigma for users,” he said.

Helen Jennens is a Kelowna woman who’s lost two sons to drug overdoses.

Rian passed away in 2011 and Tyler, a father of two, died last year.

“We have his cell phone records and we could see he started looking for a dealer and had purchased in his mind heroin, and it was 100% fentanyl. There wasn’t a grain of heroin in it,” she told Global News on Friday.

“We have to view this as a medical situation, not a moral failing.”

Jennens has turned her pain into passion and advocates for further government intervention to save lives.

She’s part of a group called Moms Stop The Harm, which supports the distribution of clean heroin to addicts.

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“Clean drugs can help prevent overdose deaths,” she said.

Corneil said he is in favour of the decriminalization of drug possession.

“One of the barriers is actually they fear the repercussions of being charged criminally.”

But Ottawa has said it has no plans to change Canada’s drug laws, leaving some fearing the death toll will only continue to rise.

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