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Kelowna  

Local fentanyl deaths rise

Fentanyl-related deaths in Kelowna have just about reached the number of deaths from last year — just three months into 2016.

In Kamloops, they've already surpassed the number of deaths in 2015.

The staggering increase is raising red flags.

Last week, British Columbia became the first province in Canada to declare a state of emergency over the dramatic rise of fentanyl deaths this year.

Five people died with fentanyl in their system in Kelowna and Kamloops, respectively, in the first three months of this year. In all of 2015, six people died with the dangerous drug in their system in Kelowna, and three in Kamloops.

This dramatic rise in deaths can be seen throughout the entire Interior region, which includes the area from Manning Park to the Alberta border and north to 100 Mile House.

In 2015, the BC Coroners Service recorded 21 deaths where fentanyl was detected in the region and so far in 2016, there have already been 15 fentanyl-related deaths recorded in the area.

Province-wide, 153 fentanyl-related deaths were recorded last year, and 64 have been documented in the first three months of 2016.

In addition to the deaths in Kelowna and Kamloops, West Kelowna, Vernon, Castlegar, Kimberley and Radium Hot Springs have all seen a person die with fentanyl in their system this year.

Fentanyl is an opioid pain killer roughly 100 times stronger than morphine. When it is cut into other recreational drugs like heroin, the user may not expect the additional strength from the drug, causing overdoses in some cases.  

Fentanyl has also shown up in counterfeit Oxycontin pills, which are pressed as green pills, and passed off as the weaker opiate oxycodone.

Health Minister Terry Lake says the state of emergency allows the government to collect real-time information to respond quickly to the crisis, instead of waiting for data from the coroner’s office.

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