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Vernon councillor appalled by toxic drug poisoning statistic

Now the second-leading cause of death in B.C., much to the horror of Coun. Kelly Fehr
Interior Health says toxic drug poisoning has become the second-leading cause of death in B.C. One Vernon councillor calls the revelation “horrible.” (File photo)


That was Vernon Coun. Kelly Fehr’s one-word answer to the statistic shown by Interior Health medical health officer Dr. Jonathan Malo that toxic drug poisonings have become the second-leading cause of death in B.C.

There were 2,272 deaths in 2022 in B.C. Vernon had 47 overdose deaths in the local health area (also includes Coldstream and Lumby), up from 43 in 2021 and 30 in 2020. There were 328 paramedic-attended opioid overdose events last year, down just one from 2021, but up significantly from 239 in 2020.

“It speaks to the need for programs like fentanyl patches to reduce the risk of overdose deaths,” said Fehr.

Fentanyl patches are a new initiative at the Vernon Downtown Mental Health and Substance Use Centre, as explained to council by Megan Thorne, Interior Health director of clinical operations. The patches program is part of a prescribed safer supply at the centre.

“The primary goal of safer supply is to provide an alternative to the current illicit drug supply,” said Thorne. “Clients identified as having high OAT (Opioid Agonist Treatment) needs – those who have been unsuccessful with previous OAT treatments, are vulnerable and require more wraparound supports – will be supported.”

The centre team will review and discuss potential clients for the fentanyl patches program. A safe supply nurse books a patch change appointment with the client.

The patches are said to last approximately 72 hours.

Mal0 and Thorne were in Vernon Monday, March 13, to update council on the toxic drug supply and to make recommendations to local government. Malo said there is no anticipated impact on the public use of substances.

“We suggest waiting for six months to evaluate the impact before looking to create new bylaws,” he said. “Partner together around issues and find ways to support people to safely use substances.”

Any bylaws that impact public health require consultation with Malo.

A three-year decriminalization period for drugs under 2.5 grams that will not be confiscated, nor will an individual be arrested for possession of 2.5 grams or under of opioids, methamphetamines, cocaine and MDMA (ecstacy), came into effect in B.C. on Jan. 31. This applies to adults 18 and over.

If caught with 2.5 grams or less, law enforcement will provide resource cards to people, and officers will continue to use their discretion for quantities over 2.5 grams.

Malo reminded council that trafficking and producing such substances remain illegal.

Decriminalization does not apply to schools, child care facilities, airports, in motor vehicles, watercrafts (operated by minor/in reach of driver), and the Canadian Armed Forces.

“Decriminalization will not affect the toxicity of the drugs,” said Malo.

READ MORE: Issues abound for Vernon RCMP in relation to drug decriminalization

READ MORE: Vernon Peanut Pool costs rise $1M

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Roger Knox

About the Author: Roger Knox

I am a journalist with more than 30 years of experience in the industry. I started my career in radio and have spent the last 21 years working with Black Press Media.
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