Penticton paramedics have responded to significantly more drug overdose calls in 2020 compared to 2019, city council heard Tuesday in a presentation by Interior Health representatives.
So far, this year has seen an increase of “about 70 per cent” in the number of 911 overdose calls made in Penticton compared to 2019, Interior Health medical health officer Sue Pollock told Penticton council.
Despite this, overdose deaths in Penticton have decreased in 2020. In 2019 there were a total of 22 overdose deaths in Penticton recorded by the B.C. Coroners Service. In 2020 there were nine from Jan. 1 to Oct. 31.
“It’s great that those lives are not being lost due to overdose but I think it still speaks to the severity of the drug supply that’s out there and the potential harm that people who use substances are facing,” said Pollock.
Fentanyl — a highly potent synthetic opioid — was detected in every single overdose death recorded in Penticton so far in 2020. Approximately half of the deaths occurred in private homes.
Jill Pascoe, director of mental health and substance use programs in the South Okanagan, told council that health providers in the city have a responsibility to help drug users by accepting that abstinence is not always an immediate option for those that are addicted.
“Many individuals who use substances have significant trauma or issues in their lives that have led to that place,” said Pascoe. “I think as health providers it’s our responsibility to meet them where they’re at … and make sure if they are needing to use substances that they are doing so in the safest way possible and that they are aware of the risks of overdose and we prevent as many as we can.”
Carl Meadows, Interior Health’s executive director of clinical operations for the South Okanagan, told council that misconceptions around who the overdose crisis is actually impacting continue to be prevalent.
“The stigma continues to be misaligned with who is actually being affected,” Meadows said. “These are not what people actually think of as people that would be dying and overdosing on substances… people are horrified to find out it’s their kids in the [emergency] department.”