Okanagan headed into deadliest year of opioid crisis

FILE. Moms Stop the Harm advocates and supporters gather at Centennial Square on the sixth anniversary of a public health emergency due to the opioid-related deaths across British Columbia, in Victoria on April 14, 2022. B.C. says it has suffered more than 10,000 overdose deaths since the province declared a public health emergency in April 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Kelowna, B.C., is headed toward the deadliest year of its toxic drug crisis.

Figures released from the BC Coroners Office Tuesday show that 38 people died from B.C.’s toxic drug supply between January and June of this year. The total number of overdose deaths in 2022 was 75.

Worse on a per-capita basis, is the situation in surrounding cities. So far this year there have been 23 illegal drug overdose deaths in Vernon and there were 11 in Penticton just from January through April.

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Helen Jennens, who lost two sons to opioid overdose, is increasingly frustrated with the province and its failure to take heed of medical experts that are pushing for a regulated safe supply.

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“When you won’t take the advice from the experts, it’s pretty disheartening,” Jennens, the face of Moms Stop the Harm in the Okanagan, said.

“What’s the magic number that the government needs to see before they step in, change our drug policy and provide safe drugs to people who are addicted? We have 100,000 people who are addicted to drugs in B.C. … what, are we just going to ignore them and let them die?”

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Across the province, 1,095 people died of an illegal drug overdose between January and June.

“The ever-increasing toxicity of the unregulated, illicit drug market is taking a heartbreaking toll on the lives and well-being of members of our communities across the province,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner.

“Deaths due to toxic drugs in the first half of 2022 have surpassed the number of deaths experienced in the same period in 2021, putting our province, once again, on track for a record loss of life.”

More than three-quarters (78 per cent) of the lives lost in 2022 were male and nearly the same percentage (73 per cent) were between the ages of 30-59. On average, more than six lives have been lost to illicit drugs every day this year.

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“Six years ago, nearly 1,000 people in this province died from the illicit drug supply in a single year. Today, the same number of people died in just half the time,” Guy Felicella, a peer clinical adviser in Vancouver Coastal Health said in a Tuesday release from the BC Coroners Service.

“The only thing that’s changed is that the unregulated drug supply has gotten worse,” Felicella said. “It’s become more dangerous and more unpredictable.

“Nothing will change if we don’t ensure that people can get the help when they need it — whether that’s safe supply or treatment and recovery.”

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New survey suggests British Columbians are divided over the decriminalization of hard drugs

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