Education and awareness are two things that RCMP Const. James Grandy says are key in combating the ongoing opioid crisis in Penticton.
According to statistics released by BC Coroners Service at the beginning of December, 17 people fatally overdosed in Penticton between January and October of this year.
This put Penticton at the 12th highest area for rate of fatal overdoses in the province, with Kelowna ranking fifth highest with 27 overdose deaths from January to October 2019.
Grandy works as a part of Penticton’s Community Safety and Enforcement team, as the mental health and intervention co-ordinator. He has been in this role since the position was created for the Penticton detachment, a year and a half ago, after it was realized RCMP officers were routinely dealing with people suffering from addictions and mental health concerns.
“There was a need to, as there is in other communities, (to) bridge that gap between police and people who are suffering from a mental health issue, primarily,” said Grandy.
Grandy has seen many area of the province. Prior to working in Penticton he was stationed in Oliver, and before this, Burnaby. The last three years of his seven-year term in Burnaby was spent creating a mental health co-ordinator position, a partnership between that RCMP detachment and Fraser Health.
“A lot of officers were not sure of how to move forward with some of those cases; like who is available in the community to assist? There wasn’t really any communication between the RCMP and the health system, and there needed to be that,” said Grandy.
“Otherwise you’re not really solving the problem. You’re not getting that person the right help.”
In Penticton, Grandy’s role is to help identify those in the community that police deal with often and need intervention by a third party. Grandy then helps direct those individuals toward the service that best suits their needs.
It’s no secret that opioids are becoming more of a problem all the time. In Penticton, this year saw a record number of fatal overdoses and 243 calls to emergency services for potential overdoses between Jan. 1 and Dec. 17. Although the number of callouts is less than 2018, the number of fatal overdoses is higher so far.
Penticton has had an increase in deaths consistently since 2015, when three people overdosed, followed by seven in 2016, 14 in 2017 and 16 in 2018.
So what has changed to explain this increase in deadly overdoses? Grandy attributed it to the level of addiction, which continues to increase.
Some individuals might dabble in drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin, he said, but the real problem arises when these drugs they’re taking are mixed with an opioid, in most cases fentanyl.
“So now you’re taking an already destructive drug, and then you’re adding something more addictive into that same drug, so you’re making it that much more difficult to stop using it,” said Grandy.
“All these drugs have become significantly more addictive than ever before,” he added.