Overdose deaths high on Vernon agenda

There were 13 fatal overdoses in Vernon in 2016, while there were 108 suspected opioid overdoses at VJH

Fentanyl is a growing concern in Vernon as overdose deaths increase.

Fentanyl is a growing concern in Vernon as overdose deaths increase.



Efforts are underway to ensure overdose deaths in Vernon don’t reach crisis proportions.

There were 13 fatal overdoses in Vernon in 2016, while there were 108 suspected opioid overdoses reported at Vernon Jubilee Hospital’s emergency department from June 1 to Dec. 31. 2016.

“As this floods into Vernon, we’re in a position to respond,” Dr. Trevor Corneil, Interior Health Authority chief medical health officer, told city council Monday.

Of the 108 cases at VJH, 68 per cent involved men, with the median age being 36 and 25 per cent occurred among people who identify themselves as aboriginal.

Thirty-five per cent of the overdoses occurred in a public space or on the street, while 45 took place in a private residence. Sixty per cent reported taking heroin and 14 per cent reported using fentanyl.

“We’ve seen an increase in activity in Vernon in the last three or four months,” said Corneil.

“I attribute it to fentanyl reaching out further into the community.”

However, Corneil insists IHA is taking the situation seriously and co-operating with other government agencies and service providers.

“Different ministries are working together. Those conversations are happening.”

Much of the focus is providing information to drug users — both addicts and recreational users — and the public about the risk.

“The more visible we can be, the more people we have supporting us,” said Corneil, adding that attempts are also being made to reduce the wait lists for substance abuse counselling.

Cornell points out that court-imposed red zones that keep individuals with criminal records from frequenting downtown cores also prevent them from accessing vital social services.

“There are different ways to address crime.”

Naloxone kits are also being distributed to assist individuals who overdose.

Mayor Akbal Mund says it was important for council to receive the information from Corneil.

“We have to be compassionate with the population involved and working together, we can find a solution,” he said.