The other medical pandemic

Seventy-three people across the Okanagan have died so far this year after overdosing on illegal drugs, the BC Coroners Service says. Drug paraphernalia is shown here in a Vancouver park.

A total of 73 people across the Okanagan have died so far this year because of illegal drug overdoses, newly-released figures indicate.

Half of those deaths were in Kelowna, the BC Coroners Service says.

Through all of 2019, 84 people in the Okanagan died of illegal drug overdoses, so this year’s tally is likely to exceed that number.

The toxicity of illegal drugs continues to increase, with extreme concentrations of fentanyl found in 14 per cent of the overdose victims, compared to eight per cent earlier this year.

In Penticton, the overdose rate remains three times higher than it was five years ago. A total of 45 people in Penticton have died of illegal drug overdoses from January 2018 to last month.

Provincewide, 1,068 people have died of illegal drug overdoses so far this year, higher than the number seen through all of 2019.

The cities with the highest number of illegal drug overdoses are Vancouver, Surrey, and Victoria. Kelowna and Kamloops each have the fourth highest numbers, at 36 so far this year. Three people died of illegal drug overdoses in Kelowna in August.

The worst year for illegal drug overdoses in the Okanagan was 2017, when there were 155 such deaths.

Fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamine are the three drugs most commonly associated with overdose deaths.

The monthly coroners report usually contains quotes from various drug experts, but Wednesday’s release has no such comment, likely because the provincial election is underway and government officials are limited in what they can say.

But the BC Liberals were quick to issue a release, saying the continuing overdose crisis shows the NDP’s drug policies are failing.

“It’s simply not good enough anymore to solely invest in one approach, harm reduction supports like overdose prevention sites and greater distribution of naloxone kits. They are saving lives but we also need immediate investment in treatment and recovery,” BC Liberal candidate Jane Thornthwaite said in the release.