The fentanyl overdose epidemic hit Revelstoke hard in 2018, when there was a dramatic “spike” in illicit overdose deaths, according to Interior Health.
Interior Health (IH) has confirmed there was a spike in overdose fatalities, but will not disclose the total number of deaths, saying they do not share community-specific numbers if they are below ten, citing confidentiality. However, an Interior Health document obtained by the Mountaineer show there were six illicit drug overdose deaths in Revelstoke between January and August of 2018. It’s unclear if there were more deaths during the remainder of the year. IH will not disclose the number of drug overdose deaths from previous years.
The deaths follow a trend similar to other communities in the province: the overdose victims are mainly young and middle-aged men dying after taking drugs at home while they are alone.
Rae Samson is the Director of Substance Use Services for Interior Health and is based in Kamloops. In an interview with the Mountaineer, she said the driving factor behind the spike in deaths is the presence of fentanyl in the community.
Audio: Listen to our interview with Rae Samson on the Revelstoke drug overdose spike
“The drug supply is poisoned and it’s very difficult for people who use drugs to predict the dose they are taking,” Samson said.
She encouraged drug users to take two key steps to avoid overdose deaths. “It’s very, very important that people don’t use alone. It’s important that they have someone there who is trained in using the [naloxone] kit.”
The kits are now available in several locations, and Revelstoke drug users are getting them.
“The distribution of those kits has gone up very significantly over the past couple of years,” Samson said. In 2016, eight were distributed in Revelstoke. That jumped to 53 in 2017 and 62 between January and September of 2018.
The kits are available at Pharmasave, Queen Victoria Hospital, the Selkirk Medical Group, Family Pharmacy, and Revelstoke Mental Health & Substance Use.
Samson said there are a number of support services available for those using drugs, including harm reduction and treatment services, and that they can be accessed via medical services providers. Opioid cessation services, such as suboxone and methadone treatments, are available in the community.
Interior Health is also trying to get a stakeholder meeting going in Revelstoke to see if there is interest in forming a committee to work on the overdose issue. The meeting has yet to be scheduled.
Samson said a key to success is making services, “as low barrier as possible so we are able to engage with people where they’re at.”