Vernon overdose prevention site reports 18 deaths this year in the city

Toxic drugs on the rise

Toxic drugs have taken the lives of 18 people in Vernon this year.

Interior Health medical health officer Dr. Karin Goodison and Colleen McEwan, director of clinical operations for mental health and substance use, gave the grim statistic in a report to Vernon city council on the downtown overdose prevention site.

“We’ve seen a lot of people passing away due to illicit toxic drug supply that continues in this community,” said Goodison.

Since January, the site has prevented 18 overdoses.

About two or three people a day visit the site to safely consume their drugs, monitored by staff.

McEwan says about five to 10 times more people come to the site to pick up harm-reduction supplies including pipes, foil, glass stems, naloxone kits and injection supplies.

In Vernon, 88 per cent of those who have died from toxic drugs are male, and 66 per cent of those deaths occurred in private residences.

When COVID-19 hit, Goodison says the overdose emergency got worse and challenged staff in many ways.

“COVID changed the toxicity in drugs on the streets. People who are dying are dying with higher and higher concentrations of fentanyl found in their bodies,” says Goodison.

The change in drug toxicity came as trafficking across borders became more difficult.

Some of the toxic drugs found on the street also have carfentanyl and benzodiazepines present.

The overdose prevention site is open Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

From January to September, McEwan says they were able to provide 117 people with education visits, 132 nursing services, and referred 210 people to other programs.

The site also has two general practitioners who come to the site to provide people with opioid antagonist prescriptions, rather than refer them to a second site.

A nurse on site can also can provide suboxone, which reduces triggers and cravings for opioids.

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