British Columbia

Frustration mounts over fentanyl response in Kelowna

As Kelowna deals with an illicit overdose death rate higher than Vancouver's, a frustrated local city council asks what it can do to help.

'What can I do now? I don't want to wait for more reports'

A clearly frustrated Kelowna City Council received an official update on the growing fentanyl crisis in the city Monday, as the Interior Health Authority asked the municipality to assist in possible solutions.

Dr. Silvina Mema, the medical health officer with Interior Health, gave council an overview of the current crisis along with some startling statistics, saying the city is on track for 90 deaths in 2017.

"Kelowna is standing out among other medium-sized cities," she said.

In September, a report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information showed Kelowna had the highest rate of hospitalizations for opiod poisoning in all of Canada.

'These deaths are preventable'

Mema shared maps and charts with city councillors showing the sharp increase in overdose deaths. She also displayed a memory board of local victims.

"This does not have to be the new reality of our city. These deaths are preventable," said Mema.

She said Interior Health has given out thousands of Naloxone kits and implemented mobile supervised injection services but said demand has been "overwhelming" and the health sector cannot respond alone.

She then issued a "call-to-action," asking the city to step up with possible solutions and start a conversation around drug use, prevention and stigma.

 "We need to take this response to the next level," she said.

'What can I do now?' asks councillor

Coun. Charlie Hodge said he recently lost a relative to a fentanyl overdose and he fears for another relative who is a drug user.

He said he is frustrated at the lack of clarity about what concrete actions municipalities can take.

"I'm going to walk away from this meeting ... feeling sadder than I did when I walked in, because all I've heard is a confirmation of how bad it is," said Hodge.

"What can I do now? I don't want to wait for more reports."

"I was hoping for some miracle way that you could give us a couple of tangibles that we could do."

Interior Health says demand for harm reduction services like supervised injection and Naloxone is "overwhelming." (Jaimie Kehler)

The frustration was echoed by Coun. Mohini Singh who personally knows at least three people who have overdosed.

"What would you suggest? How does the rubber meet the road here?" she asked.

City will consider possible role

"I don't know what the city council can do, but it's the conversation that I would like to start," said Mema.

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran said it's clear councillors are "feeling the weight" of the community's overdose crisis.

He said "there is no silver bullet solution," but said councillors will consider the information and determine how the city might play a role.

With files from CBC's Radio West.