Dr. Doug Cochrane, chair of the Interior Health board. Photo credit: Contributed

Solving the drug overdose tragedy

Interior Health chairman says problem is both medical and social

While Interior Health has adopted measures to combat the opioid overdose epidemic over the past year, still more needs to be done, says the chairman of Interior Health.

In Kelowna this year, there were 60 overdose fatalities as of August, but only three recorded in September. So far this year, the overdose fatality count is 17 in Vernon and 33 in Kamloops.

Dr. Doug Cochrane, appointed as IH board chair in September, says until the overdose fatality rate starts decreasing rather than increasing, more solutions need to be sought out.

“We’re not keeping people safe enough and that’s why the (overdose fatality) numbers keep increasing so how to change that is something we will continue to work on concurrently with what is being done elsewhere across the province and across country,” said Cochrane.

Cochrane, who was appointed as chair of the IH board by Health Minister Adrian Dix, said IH’s aggressive, multi-faceted approach has been consistent with B.C.’s public health officer declaring the opioid crisis a public health emergency and how to address it.

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“What we need to do is keep people safe, work with them when they are ready for a change and support them when they are trying to address their drug dependency,” Cochrane said.

“Our challenge is how do we keep people safe who use substances where the source of those substances are unknown, which is where the fentanyl plays into it.

“I don’t know yet where the health care system will end up on this, but I know we can’t rely on what we’ve done in the past. There are still people dying and that is a tragedy.

“The other aspect of this is surviving the experience of overdosing for some people will cause them to open a door to other defined forms of treatment, which means providing access to more treatment beds and facilities. Community support will be the next step.”

Cochrane said drug use is often related to emotional or physical pain, which is as much a social issue as it is a medical one.

“People become desperate to do whatever they can to deal with pain and that affects a vast array of socio-economic groups. That pain can come in many different forms.

“Dealing with that pain I think is where the support for individuals lies. We as a health authority and as a society have a responsibility to act for and support them.”

Watch for more from senior regional reporter Barry Gerding’s exclusive interview with the new Interior Health board chairman Dr. Doug Cochrane on the Black Press web network and sister newspapers across the Okanagan-Shuswap region.

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