Spike in Kelowna overdose deaths prompts public alert

Health officials in the Okanagan have issued a public alert after seven deaths from suspected drug overdoses in nine days.

Interior Health warns drugs users to take precautions after 7 deaths in 9 days

Fentanyl has been implicated in many recent drug overdose deaths in B.C. (CBC)

Health officials in the Okanagan have issued a public alert after seven deaths from suspected drug overdoses in nine days.

The exact cause for the spike in deaths in the Kelowna area between Aug. 17 and 26 has yet to be determined, but Interior Health is advising all users of illegal drugs to take precautions. Those include carrying a naloxone kit and never consuming substances alone.

The numbers came as no surprise to Clary Lausnes, coordinator for the local All Are Family Outreach program.

"The amount of drugs coming into the province is extremely high, and these are people that have mental illness. These are people who have been emotionally abused, physically abused — and they turn to self-medication," she told CBC News.

"When they self-medicate, then they take all kinds of risks."

Opioid crisis sparks anger

Several people who access her group's outreach programs have died in recent months, Lausnes added. The majority have been men, but the victims also include teenage girls.

The hopelessness of the public health emergency that has gripped B.C. for more than a year is sparking anger among those living with addiction, she said. Many are tired of being blamed for a situation they feel they have little power to change.

"It's not a conscious choice to go out and become an addict. Placing blame on them…doesn't solve anything," she said.

The latest Kelowna victims of the opioid crisis have died both at home and in public spaces, according to Interior Health.

The health authority is telling drug users to get to know the signs of an overdose, keep a close eye on their friends and call 911 at the first sign of trouble. Officials are also suggesting that people consume just a small sample of any illegal substance at first to make sure it's safe.

But Lausnes doesn't believe anything will improve unless more spaces open up for treatment, so that addicts can get immediate help.

"If you're an addict on the street, you can't remember that you have an appointment the next day, let alone in six weeks," she said.


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