Spike in drug overdose deaths hitting Cowichan Valley

Overdose deaths are on the rise throughout the province, including in the Cowichan Valley.

Overdose deaths are on the rise throughout the province, including in the Cowichan Valley.

There were 38 deaths from illicit drug overdoses on Vancouver Island in the first four months of 2016, compared with 22 over the entire last year, according to a report from the B.C. Coroner’s Office.

Overall, there were 308 overdose deaths in the province in the first four months of this year, compared with 175 for the same period last year, a 75 per cent increase.

Duncan has reported two overdose deaths during the four-month period, compared to just one for the entire year in 2015.

There have been 12 overdose deaths in Duncan since 2007, with 10 of those occurring since 2012, according to the B.C. Coroner’s Service.

There were 14 overdose deaths since the new year in Victoria, 12 in Nanaimo, four in Saanich and three in Powell River, the other closest communities to the Cowichan Valley listed in the coroner’s report.

“If the trend continues, we’ll be looking at more than 700 deaths this year [across the province],” B.C. coroner Barb McLintock said.

“It’s a trend we want to see stopped as soon as we can. If you look at Victoria and Nanaimo, we’re getting a high proportion increase of drug-overdose deaths on the Island and in the Interior, although the raw numbers are still higher on the Lower Mainland,”

Dr. Dee Hoyano, a chief medical health officer for Island Health, said one of the main reasons for the spike in overdose deaths in the province is greater potency of the drugs used, which is much higher than it was five to 10 years ago.

She said intravenous drug users should never take the drugs alone, and someone else should be present to call for help, if necessary, or render assistance.

“We really need to increase the awareness of the potential of injecting toxic levels of drugs,” Hoyano said.

“We are advising intravenous drug users to only use a small amount at first to test its potency. There’s no quality control on these drugs and users may not even know if they are actually taking the drug they think they are.”

Hoyano said naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opiate medications like heroin and fentanyl, is now available in the Cowichan Valley through health authorities.

“Health officials at Duncan Mental Health [and Addiction Services] and other health facilities in the Cowichan Valley are available to explain how to properly use naloxone,” Hoyano said.