There have been approximately 16 deaths in the Cowichan Valley due to drug overdoses since 2012, according to health authorities.
In a presentation on July 20 to North Cowichan’s council, Paul Hasselback, medical health officer for central Vancouver Island, said there are currently up to four overdose cases a week at the Cowichan District Hospital, and the trend is for those numbers to increase.
Hasselback said there have been a substantial increase in overdose cases, with several leading to death, on Vancouver Island over the past year, with the first six months of 2016 already seeing more cases than all of 2015.
He pointed out that first responders in Surrey were called to 36 overdoses within a 48 hour period during the weekend of July 16-17, with most tied to the drug fentanyl.
The situation across B.C. has become so bad that the province declared a public health emergency in April, the first province to take this kind of action in response to drug overdoses.
Hassleback said working groups of stakeholders, including medical authorities and community organizations, have begun to form in areas of the Island where drug overdoses are more acute, including Nanaimo and Victoria, and the Cowichan Valley should consider similar strategies.
“We need to have a community discussion, particularly in regards to fentanyl, which has become increasingly available over the past three years, and has been increasingly incorporated with other drugs, including cocaine and heroin,” he said.
“The Cowichan Valley has yet to see the numbers of drug overdoses and deaths spike like in some of the larger centres, but it will likely have to face this experience, and the question you have to ask yourselves is ‘are we prepared?’” Hasselback asked.
To avoid overdoses and possible deaths, Hasselback suggested that drug users should take drugs with other people and not alone, they should test a small amount first to test its potency, and they should avoid mixing drugs and have an overdose response plan.
Among other strategies, Hasselback recommended having programs in schools to deal with effective prevention of drug use and addiction, access to early intervention activities through peer support and counselling, and increased access to detox and treatment programs in the region.