Three years after fentanyl started killing people en masse across the country, the numbers continue to tell a tragic tale.
Forty-four people in Kamloops died from illicit drug overdoses in 2016; 38 died in 2017 and 32 died through the end of this past September.
Before the opioid epidemic, Kamloops recorded between two and 10 such deaths per year.
“So, we’ve gone up really high,” Interior Health medical health officer Dr. Karin Goodison said. “The trend has been the rapid rise of the appearance of fentanyl in the drug supply, a poison has been added to the drug supply and is killing people.”
Data from the Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses states that more than 9,000 Canadians have died during the opioid crisis, with data covered January 2016 through June 2018. Of deaths reported in the first half of this year, 94 per cent were accidental and nearly three-quarters of those involved fentanyl-related substances.
The Canadian Institute for Health further shows opioid hospitalization rates last year were 2.5 times higher in communities with a population between 50,000 and 100,0000, including Kamloops, compared to larger cities. Last year, 17 people were hospitalized due to opioid use across the country every day.
On a per capita basis, Kamloops ranks fourth in B.C. and fifth in Canada in opioid-related hospital visits.
Goodison said B.C. is one of the most impacted provinces and statistics from the BC Coroners Service show 1,143 people died from illicit drug overdose between January and September of this year. The numbers are “stabilizing at an unacceptable rate,” she said, and account for more deaths than homicide, motor-vehicle accidents and suicide combined.
“It’s a tragedy,” Goodison said.
Policing can only go so far, she said, being that fentanyl is difficult to track.
Goodison said prevention is key, including offering safe choices, curbing stigma and providing treatment, counselling and support.
One challenge surrounding opioid addiction is that it changes the brain. The body craves opioids and also quickly loses tolerance, meaning relapse can be deadly.