A big spike in opioid overdose deaths to start 2016 has prompted officials in the Southern Interior to become the latest health authority in B.C. to issue a warning bulletin outlining ways drug users can stay safe.

Fifteen people died from drug overdose in the month of January alone, compared to 2015 when there was an average of five overdose fatalities per month in the region in 2015. Fentanyl is believed to be involved in many of the cases.

"To us that is certainly a significant trend," said Dr. Trevor Corneil, chief medical health officer with the Interior Health Authority.

Dr. Trevor Corneil Interior Health Authority

Dr. Trevor Corneil is Chief Medical Health Officer of Interior Health (Interior Health Authority)

Overdose deaths were up 27 per cent across B.C. in 2015 according to the B.C. Coroners office. Fentanyl has been implicated in 146 of those deaths — almost a third of the total number of overdoses fatalities last year — although opioids such as fentanyl, heroin, and morphine are often taken in combination with prescription drugs and alcohol making it difficult to single out an individual cause of death.

Corneil says education and naloxone kits — which are available at some health care facilities in the region — are part of the solution.

"Getting naloxone in the hands of the people who actually need it is one of the unique ways we have of actually reversing an overdose and preventing a potential death," he said. " We think it's really important that communities are aware of what is available to them with regards of education, harm reduction, access to take home naloxone, addictions treatment and general knowledge and awareness.

Corneil says Interior Health, which includes the cities of Kelowna, Vernon and Kamloops and covers the West and East Kootenay region, is in preliminary discussions around the idea of creating supervised injection or consumption sites.

With files from Brady Strachan