Interior Health issues drug alert for Central Okanagan in wake of deaths

Drug poisoning alert issued

Interior Health says they are taking a series of overdose deaths in Kelowna very seriously.

"From the Interior Health perspective, we are concerned about increased overdose deaths in the Central Okanagan. But not only in Central Okanagan, we have indication of increased deaths across other parts of British Columbia as well," said Dr. Silvina Mema, medical health officer, on Monday.

The health authority issued a drug alert Monday after five people died from toxic drugs in the Kelowna and West Kelowna area on Saturday alone.

Mema says despite the deaths, the hospital and paramedics have not seen an increase in the demand for "overdose services." There was also no increase in overdoses at local homeless shelters.

While the health authority took days to issue their own alert following the RCMP, Mema says the deaths suggest something could be circulating in the community that could be more lethal than usual.

She said two of Saturday's victims may have been using the buddy system except that they appear to have taken the drugs at the same time.

"We need to make sure that people are using substances in a staggered way if you are with a friend. Don't use at the same time, because both can be affected by an overdose and then there is nobody to respond," Mema said.

Mema noted that the overdose victims were not homeless.

"These are not outdoor overdoses like homeless individuals or that type of thing. These were inside. We also have evidence that this could be due to inhalation not injection," she said, adding they believe these drugs were inhaled indoors.

"There is a misconception that drugs are inhaled or smoked are less dangerous or less risky than injection and that's not true. Deep inhalation can be lethal as well. Particularly indoors with no ventilation."

The drug supply in Kelowna, like the rest of B.C., is incredibly toxic and tainted with high concentrations of opioids and other substances like benzodiazepines.

"And potentially new drugs that we don't know about, that make them exceedingly toxic."

"Recreational users, people who are using for the first time, or haven't used in a long time, those people are at much higher risk. And it is possible that the deaths on Saturday affected people in this situation, people who are not everyday users or regular users, people who are either using recreationally or have a relapse."

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