2021 was the worst year on record for fatal overdoses in Penticton.
Over the entire year there were 26 fatal overdoses according to the report issued by the BC Coroners Service on Feb. 9. The 26 deaths was up from the 17 seen in 2020.
On a per capita basis this puts Penticton at 57.1 deaths due to overdose per 100,000 people, which is higher than Surrey at 54.1 per 100,000, the Central Okanagan at 38.3 per 100,000 or the provincewide rate at 42.8 per 100,000.
The last year that Penticton saw single-digit fatal overdoses was in 2016, when seven people died. In 2017, there were 16 fatal overdoses, in 2018 there were another 16, while in 2019 was the previous record of 22.
Most of the fatal overdoses in 2021 were due to drugs that contained fentanyl, which was detected in 83 per cent of all deaths across B.C. Carfentanil was present in 187 results, almost triple the 66 that were recorded in 2020.
“In the past seven years, the rate of death due to illicit drug toxicity in our province has risen more than 400%,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner. “Drug toxicity is now second only to cancers in B.C. for potential years of life lost. We cannot simply hope that things will improve. It is long past time to end the chaos and devastation in our communities resulting from the flourishing illicit drug market, and to ensure, on an urgent basis, access across the province to a safe, reliable regulated drug supply.”
In the Interior, the number of deaths where extreme concentrations were detected — of anything over 50 micrograms per litre — doubled to 12 per cent of deaths for April 2020 to December 2021 compared January 2019 to March 2020.
A drug alert was most recently issued for drugs with high amounts of fentanyl and potential benzodiazepines on Jan. 20, 2022 for Penticton.
According to the coroner’s report, half of all drug samples in December tested positive for etizolam, a benzodiazepine. Benzodiazepines create significant challenges for life-saving efforts as naloxone does not reverse its effects.
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