The number of illicit drug-related deaths over the first five months of 2019 might be down across the province, but there’s still a long way to go to resolve the issue, says a South Okanagan physician.
“We’ve gone from absolutely horrific to just horrific,” said Dr. Peter Entwistle of numbers released last week that show a year-over-year decrease in drug overdoses.
“Yes, a few less people are dying from overdoses but the numbers are still extremely high and the problem isn’t going away.”
The BC Coroners Service last week is reporting 462 illicit drug toxicity deaths in the first five months of 2019, down 30% from the 2018 total (651) over the same period.
The data is subject to change and totals for 2019 will likely increase as post-mortem testing results are received, but the service is suggesting that is a sign for cautious optimism.
Dr. Entwistle describes himself as “more cautiously optimistic.”
I welcome any improvement, but there’s a huge way to go and the services and mindset are inadequate for what remains a huge and ongoing disaster for our communities,” he said. “The deaths are touching so many people and beyond health and social service fixes, we need real political energy, honesty, and determination to look at real and meaningful ways to address this crisis.
“Until we at the very least decriminalize drug use, we’re going to see high numbers of drug-related deaths,” he adding, noting that no deaths were reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.
Dr. Entwistle provides services to South Okanagan residents with severe addictions at his office at the Osoyoos Indian Band Health Centre — and also travels to Grand Forks to provide addictions care in that community.
He said he has recruited two doctors to work with him in Grand Forks and has also worked with other physicians to help improve addictions care.
The coroners service says more than two-thirds of the illicit-drug deaths in the first five months of 2019 involved people aged 30 to 59 years, and males account for almost four in every five of all illicit-drug deaths over the same period.
It also noted almost nine in every 10 illicit drug deaths occurred inside, including more than half in private residences.
Carfentanil was detected in almost one-quarter (102 of 383) of the fentanyl-detected deaths in the first five months of 2019. There were 35 carfentanil-detected deaths in 2018.