South Okanagan numbers reflect opioid report, MD says

A new report released Thursday by the BC Coroners Service that paints a profile of British Columbians who have died in the illicit drug overdose crisis is pretty much on the money locally, says a South Okanagan doctor.

The 34-page report — Illicit Drug Overdose Deaths in BC: Findings of Coroners’ Investigations — looked deeper into 872 completed illicit drug overdose death investigations in 2016 and 2017.

The report confirmed findings previously shared by the coroners service, including:

  • Four in every five decedents were male (81%, or 707 of the 872 deaths);
  • About two-thirds of decedents lived in private residences; and,
  • Fentanyl was detected in just over three in every four deaths.

Dr. Peter Entwistle, who has committed much of his practice to helping patients with opioid addictions, says his experience in the BC Interior mirrors the report’s findings.

“That would definitely be for sure in the South Okanagan,” he says of the report. “The majority are male and the age range goes from teenaged right up to the 60s.”

He suggested fentanyl was likely a bigger risk in the South Okanagan, with more than 75 percent of deaths linked to the drug.

The report also found:

  • More than half of the decedents had a reported clinical mental health diagnosis or showed evidence of a mental health disorder;
  • About four in every five decedents had contact with health services in the year preceding their death;
  • More than two-thirds used drugs alone;
  • 45% of decedents had reported pain-related issues;
  • 14% of decedents lived in social or single room occupancy housing and 9% were homeless;
  • About one in every four deaths involved people, primarily males, working in trades or transport;
  • 65% of decedents were never married and 18% were previously separated or divorced; and,
  • 44% of decedents were employed and 51% unemployed.

“These people are not just street addicts,” Dr. Entwistle said. “People are getting addicted to opioids because they have chronic pain. A lot of people, through no fault of their own, become addicted and now are having to do street drugs to reduce pain and stop themselves withdrawing.”

Despite the crisis, Dr. Entwistle said he stands alone in providing extensive physician-related services throughout the South Okanagan, Similkameen and Boundary regions.

“I’m the only one who is doing this — still,” he said by phone Thursday from Grand Forks.

His addictions practice involves patients, many self-referred, who are drug dependent. The biggest part of his work is ensuring they have a safe supply of narcotics.

“About 80% benefit as far as they aren’t overdosing and dying, they’re working, they have better social relationships and their overall health is better,” he said earlier this year of his practice. “It has proven the most effective thing that doctors can do.”

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