Black Press file photo The alarming rate of drug overdose statistics, plus increasing fentanyl deaths, has prompted a public presentation Monday at Fulton on the topic.

Fentanyl on topic in Vernon

With 450 overdoses between June 1, 2016 and Jan. 15, 2017 (not to mention the 922 illicit drug overdose deaths in 2016 and 116 just in the first month of 2017), the level of concern is rapidly rising.

The numbers, reported from Interior Health, include just emergency department reported overdoses at seven sites, including Kelowna General Hospital, Royal Inland Hospital and Vernon Jubilee Hospital. But Vernon reported the largest number of overdoses – 115; followed by Kamloops – 114; Kelowna – 82; Penticton – 50 and Nelson – 37.

The biggest culprit, according to self-reports, is heroin (53 per cent), then polysubstance – multiple drugs (41 per cent), illicit stimulants – such as methamphetamine, cocaine, and ecstasy (22 per cent), alcohol (18 per cent), fentanyl (18 per cent), opioids not prescribed to patients (17 per cent), while prescribed opioids, benzodiazepines, GHB, other illegal opioids and methadone make up the remainder.

These numbers, paired with the rising overdose and death toll involving fentanyl, has local officials raising awareness alarm bells.

Interior Health and the Vernon School District are joining forces to host a free public presentation: A Conversation About Fentanyl, Monday at 7 p.m. at Clarence Fulton Secondary. Interior Health’s Betty Keding and Michelle McWhirter (both with the North Okanagan mental health and substance use team) will join the school district’s mental health liaison Kerry Vance and substance abuse prevention counsellor Doug Rogers.

“With these new drugs, your first time may be your last,” said Rogers. “All of those people had a mother, and a father, and a family. All of those people woke up planning to live another day.”

While Rogers says fentanyl is not in the schools, yet, a proactive approach is needed before the lives of local youth are stolen.

“It’s better to be prepared,” he said, adding that the community needs far more prevention programs to help deal with the above numbers.

McWhirter, knowledge coordinator, agrees: “We want people to know what opioid such as fentanyl are and how to keep yourself safe.”

Ultimately, staying away from illicit drugs is the only way to keep yourself out of harm’s way.

“There’s no way to detect how much, if any, fentanyl is in a substance,” said McWhirter.

But the presentation hopes to arm parents, youth and community members about additional safety measures – No. 1 being never be by yourself if you are taking drugs.

Everyone is welcome to the presentation, which is free, and no registration is needed.