Needle drop

Disposal units like these are already in use around the city.

Penticton is in the midst of a public health emergency, says Interior Health, as drug-overdose deaths in the city surpassed last year’s number in just 10 months.

Data released Thursday by the BC Coroners Service shows 17 people died in the city through the first 10 months of the year, topping the 16 who died in all of 2018.

Erin Toews, an Interior Health spokesperson, said in an interview while numbers are declining in other communities, “the fact that we are not seeing the same trend in Penticton is concerning.”

“There are a number of complex issues underlying these numbers. A toxic drug supply continues to be the main factor,” she added.

But, it has taken steps to try to lower the number of overdoses in the community.

Toews said Interior Health has partnered alongside other community stakeholders as part of the “recently-established local Community Action Team, which is exploring options to enhance overdose prevention services in Penticton.”

The Intensive Day Treatment Program, introduced by Interior Health in Penticton, Kelowna, Vernon and Kamloops last year, helps connect people with busy lives to facility-based treatment programs.

Debbie Scarborough, the executive director for the South Okanagan Women in Needs Society, said the recent numbers are “heartbreaking.”

“We have the mobile outreach van program, and because we understand addictions is mostly rooted in trauma, it just means that we have missed so many individuals sadly,” she said in an interview. “We have more work to do.”

The town of Princeton has had the most drug-overdose deaths per capita of any B.C. community in the past two years, with an average of 81.3 fatalities per 100,000 people. Keremeos was third on the list at 52.9 per 100,000.

There was a spot of good news in the report, however, as the total number of deaths across B.C. in October 2019 fell to 69, marking a 42% decrease compared to October 2018.