Paul Henderson Paramedics work to revive someone from an apparent drug overdose.

Ongoing overdose crisis needs a different approach, says health authority

“We should look at legalizing some of these drugs so they can be made safer and regulated.”

Kelowna Health officials are reaching out to their Kamloops counterparts to figure out how they’ve seemingly managed to slow the onslaught of overdose deaths.

The number of Kamloops overdose deaths decreased to 39 in 2017 from 44 in 2016. In contrast Kelowna drug overdose deaths almost doubled to 75 in 2017 from 47 in 2016.

“I wish we knew, we could replicate (what’s happening in Kamloops) in Kelowna,” said Interior Health CEO Chris Mazurkewich. “We’ve had people in Kamloops talking to people in Kelowna to see if there are things we can do differently within the city of Kelowna. Kelowna has been hit extremely hard with overdose deaths compared to most places within the province.”

To address that the health authority is working to create action teams and work with the city and the non-government organizations that provide services to people to see what can be done.

Thus far, there are a lot of similar services.

Kelowna and Kamloops both have mobile supervised injection sites and Mazurkewich said they’re working. Thus far, nobody who has used the service has died.

The trouble spot, he said, remains reaching opioid users who are in their homes.

“How do we help that population?” he said. “Some people will come to us and others won’t.”

Although there may be some answers in what other cities are doing, Marzurkewich said that the health authority is far from getting a grip on the crisis, noting that the death rate throughout the Southern Interior is now four times what it was two years ago.

To get the upper hand on a “growing crisis” he said it might be time to look at a different model of care.

“This is continuing. Can we change it?” he asked. “This is really a tragic event with the number of deaths we are seeing. Are we doing enough? We as a society need to ask ourselves that question and we need to think about it. I know it keeps me up at night.”

One model of care that he believes may work may be increased access to safe, clean heroin.

“People who are alcoholics, there are facilities for alcoholics and they have a drink every hour and they function within society under a controlled basis,” he said. “We need those kinds of things for people addicted to this thing. We need widespread testings so people can make choices and I would argue we should look at legalizing some of these drugs so they can be made safer and regulated.”

The case for that can be found in the days of alcohol prohibition.

When it wasn’t regulated there were a higher number of deaths, as the underworld went about creating a supply to meet society’s needs.

“If we regulated and cleaned it up, would we see a smaller death rate? I’m convinced we would,” he said.

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