Incarceration and residential treatment could be adding to the number of deaths in the opiate crisis, regional directors heard Thursday.
During a delegation to the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen board Silvinia Mema, medical health officer for Interior Health, said the B.C. Coroner Service is currently working to prepare a report that will provide details and a history of people who died as a result of overdose in the province.
Although the report is not complete, Mema said it’s expected people recently released from jail or coming home from residential treatment programs will represent a high number of those that fatally overdose.
“They go back to the community and use the same dose and they no longer have the tolerance,” she said during a question and answer period following the delegation.
“Clean, detox is no longer the first line of treatment for these people. Relapse is high and overdose is high.”
In the last 10 years in Interior Health Authority overdose deaths related to opioid use has risen from 13 in 2007 to 126 in 2017.
Mema said death numbers have spiked across the province over the last two years and currently IH is considered the second highest region for opiate deaths in B.C.
The majority of those overdose deaths occurred in Kelowna (66) and Kamloops (37), with the rest scattered throughout the vast region.
Directors heard Penticton hospital had the fourth highest number of opiate overdoses treated in emergency rooms in 2017.
The highest was Kelowna General with about 355, followed by Vernon Jubilee 310, and Royal Inland in Kamloops with 180 and Penticton Regional Hospital with 165.
“These don’t reflect all overdoses. We know many people living alone, using alone and lock the bathroom door and no one would find them to take them to the hospital,” she said.
By using data from the coroner service, hospital emergency departments and the ambulance service, Interior Health is trying to come up with plans to help each community.
“The deaths, the ambulance and the emergency department show different parts of the puzzle that we try to put together,” she said.
Although the presentation wasn’t detailed in order to protect the identify of patients, data is collected pinpointing the calls for every overdose in the city of Penticton.
By tracking that data, Mema said services could be tailored to areas in each community. Examples of services included providing safe injection sites or to have more patrols in certain areas.
Rae Samson, mental health substance use administrator for IH also spoke during the delegation. She said breaking down stigmas about overdose and opiate addiction was a priority.
To that point Penticton councillor Helena Konanz pointed to issues around residents not having access to primary health care such as family physicians and psychiatrists. Konanz noted she was personally in the walk-in clinics this summer with her daughter and found they were both booked for the day by 11 a.m.
“There’s no mental health services, no psychiatrists for children. It seems to me there is some basic things that Interior Health can do and that can help this problem,” she said.
Both Samson and Mema agreed not having access to a family physician could impede a person with an addiction problem from getting help.
Samson said Penticton was ahead of the province in several areas as far as residential treatment programs and access to therapies.
“There is good access in Penticton for opiate therapies … quick access relative to the province,” she said.