Cpl. Don Wrigglesworth of the Penticton RCMP holds a syringe as emergency workers put an overdose victim on a stretcher at a Government Street house. Mark Brett/Western News file photo

Penticton’s overdose death rate most likely tops Kelowna’s

Preliminary data released to the Western News show up to 20 died last year of overdose in Penticton

Up to 20 people died of an overdose in Penticton, last year, at a per-capita rate even higher than in Kelowna.

Data are still in preliminary stages, as the B.C. Coroners Service awaits more toxicology reports, but a spokesperson said the total number of overdose deaths in Penticton is not likely to drop lower than 17. The Western News obtained that number after a lengthy discourse with the Coroners Service, initially hesitant to release any data for Penticton.

Related: Penticton hospital fourth busiest in the region for opioid overdose

That compares to 75 in Kelowna and makes up part of the 150 deaths in the Okanagan, which saw a rate of 38.5 deaths per 100,000 people.

Using B.C.’s 2017 population projections, consistent with the Coroners Service’s methodology, Kelowna’s rate of overdose deaths adds up to about 37.5 per 100,000. Even at the lower end of its range, Penticton rate would be higher, with a rate of 40 to 48 per 100,000. At the high end, that is still shy of the rate seen in Vancouver, just shy of 53 per 100,000.

Provincially, with 1,422 deaths last year, the rate sits just below 30 per 100,000.

Penticton did not make 2016’s top-15 list, but Vernon’s overdose death toll hit 13 that year. Penticton’s would have been lower than that.

Related: South Okanagan front line workers say comments add insult to tragedy

For another comparison, though, B.C. Emergency Health Services responded to 220 overdose and poisoning calls in 2017, up 40 per cent from 2016. That compares to a 21.6-per-cent spike in overdose/poisoning calls B.C.-wide and a 32.4-per-cent rise in Kelowna, with 1,040 calls last year.

Typically, overdose calls make about three-fifths of all overdose and poisoning calls.

“We do hear of overdoses — overdoses, not necessarily deaths, but certainly overdoses on a weekly basis,” said Daryl Meyers, executive director of Pathways Addictions Resources Centre. “There’s reports of carfentanil, now, in the area.”

Related: Penticton group, IH eyeing overdose prevention site

Neither Penticton nor Vernon made the top-15 list put out by the Coroners Service this year, and after a request for the numbers for Penticton, the provincial service suggested it could only provide numbers for the health services delivery area, that being the Okanagan region.

A few emails were exchanged with the Coroners Service between Jan. 31 and Feb. 14, followed by phone conversations this week with advocacy group B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association and independent freedom-of-information and privacy watchdog Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

A conversation that followed with Coroners Service led to the release of Penticton’s figures.

Related: Nine suspected fatal overdoses over five days

Part of the issue is the balance of privacy and access to information, something that governments are still figuring out, and something that will be explored further in a follow-up article in the Western News.

“This is the kind of thing that really should be made available, and should probably be made available on a website,” said FIPA B.C. executive director Vincent Gogolek.

“Obviously fentanyl poisonings and other related things are being a matter of public interest these days.”

**Correction: The print version of this story used population statistics inconsistent with the B.C. Coroners Service’s monthly report. The online version reflects that methodology.

Related: Ongoing overdose crisis needs a different approach, says health authority



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