Local responders trained to deal with fentanyl

Posters about the availability of Naloxone kits in Lillooet are literally a sign of the times.

Notices have been posted announcing that the take-home anti-opioid kits are available in the emergency department at Lillooet District Hospital, at Lillooet Public Health and at Lillooet Mental Health.

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Lesley Coates, communications officer with Interior Health, says that for reasons of confidentiality, she cannot comment on the number - if any - of fentanyl or opioid-related deaths in the Lillooet area. Coates did say that 48 people overdosed and died in the Thompson-Cariboo-Shuswap region of Interior Health in the first 11 months of 2016. Thirty-two of those deaths occurred in Kamloops.

Lillooet RCMP Cpl. Peter Koutougos said he is not aware of police attending at any sudden deaths related to fentanyl in Lillooet, where he says marijuana remains the drug of choice.

However, he cautioned that he would have to review cases on a file-by-file basis before he could say with 100 per cent certainty that no one in Lillooet has died from an overdose of the dangerous drug, a synthetic opioid up to 50 times as potent as heroin. Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids aren’t just more powerful than heroin – they are cheaper and easier to produce because they are made from chemicals instead of fields of poppies.

Cpl. Koutougos said Lillooet RCMP and other local emergency responders are being trained in how to respond to cases of suspected fentanyl usage, where the first responders “could die instantly” if they come in accidental contact with the deadly drug. The drug is so potent that anyone touching or inhaling even a bit can become seriously ill or die.

Cpl. Koutougos said all RCMP officers have been issued Naloxone  kits, which include a nasal spray that can be used in a fentanyl emergency.

Dr. Silvina Mema, IHA’s Medical Officer of Health, recently commented on the unprecedented number of drug overdose deaths in B.C. in 2016.

“Some people may think ‘Oh, I want to try, I want to see what it feels like to use heroin,” she said. “This is not the time to be experimenting with drugs.”

She made that statement last month, as the B.C. Coroners Service reported that the highest number of drug deaths in B.C. in a single month occurred in November 2016. Provisional data indicates that 128 persons died in B.C. as a result of illicit drug use in November, an average of more than four a day.

The previous high number was 82 deaths, recorded in January 2016 The November numbers bring the total number of illicit drug deaths for the first 11 months of 2016 to 755. That is an increase of 70.4 per cent over the same time period in 2015.

Fentanyl remains present in a high number of illicit drug deaths - about 50 per cent of all illicit drug deaths in the first 10 months of 2016, or triple the number of fentanyl-related deaths in that same time period in 2015.

With the number of deaths remaining so high, the B.C. Coroners Service continues to stress the importance of drug reduction measures that need to be followed by anyone using illicit drugs or anyone accompanying someone using illegal drugs.

These include never using alone, having Naloxone and medical help readily available when using, using an overdose prevention site or supervised consumption site whenever possible and knowing the signs of an overdose and calling 911 immediately.

“We want people to go to the emergency departments,” said Dr. Mema. “Some people overdose in their homes or on the streets and then the ambulance comes and they get the Naloxone. They get the initial work done and then say they don’t want to go to the hospital because they’re scared. We want people to go to the hospital.”

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