‘Overdose epidemic killing two per day’

Forum in Maple Ridge on ravages of fentanyl tonight at Westview secondary

An overdose death can hit any family.

That will be the message Dr. Ingrid Tyler brings to tonight’s community forum on fentanyl, taking place at Westview secondary.

Tyler is a medical health officer with Fraser Health, and will talk about the epidemiology of overdose deaths in B.C. – the epidemic that has been caused by fentanyl.

“Overdoses can affect everyone,” said Tyler, whether it be young people experimenting with drugs, or adults who use drugs socially.

Every drug bought in the street could be contaminated with fentanyl, she said.

“There have been some high-profile cases that have not involved street-entrenched individuals.”

There have been 488 overdose deaths from the start of the year until the end of August, and that is a 60-per-cent increase over last year. There have been 20 in that period in Maple Ridge.

“You can think of this as two deaths per day,” she said.

More than 60 per cent of the drug deaths involved fentanyl.

The majority, almost 80 per cent, are men. And the majority are in the 20- to 40-year-old age demographic.

The significant increase in overdose deaths in Maple Ridge actually arrived last year, when the number doubled to 28. This year, the projection is that 30 people from Maple Ridge will die from a drug overdose.

Those present will be taught to recognize the signs of an overdose – breathing that is slow or absent, possibly with choking or coughing. Because the subject is not getting air, they may have blue lips or fingernails. It will be difficult to wake them.

Narcan, the drug Naloxone, is an antidote to opioid overdose that has become “an important part of the solution,” said Tyler.

It has no other health effects, she said, so even if it was mistakenly given to someone suffering from alcohol poisoning, their health situation would not worsen.

“It takes the place of the opioid, and it has no harmful effects,” he said.

She said the patient will often get naloxone, and sit up immediately. It is so effective, that drug addicts can feel withdrawal symptoms.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has a ‘Take Home’ program that offers free kits to drug users and people at risk of overdose. It includes a breathing barrier mask, syringes, alcohol wipes, gloves and three ampoules of naloxone. The availability of these kits will also be discussed.

The forum is going to offer tips on talking to youth about drugs, the drug overdose epidemic and fentanyl.

“The message for parents would be to not be afraid to talk to their kids about these issues,” she said.

Fraser Health co-chairs an opioid response working group in Maple Ridge, and Tyler said the Westview forum is an important part of getting good information to the public.

“It’s been a great opportunity to partner with the community on this event,” she said.

The forum will run from 7-8:30 p.m. in the multipurpose room at Westview. It is being organized by Fraser Health, School District No. 42, Alouette Addictions, Ridge Meadows RCMP and the city.