It’s suspected that two overdose deaths in Olalla last week are linked to fentanyl and the couple who died might not have known they were using the drug.
A middle aged male and female were found dead in their Olalla home by a neighbour sometime during Thanksgiving weekend.
The couple were known to police said Cpl. Sean Hall in charge of the Serious Crime Unit based out of the South Okanagan.
The deaths are currently being investigated by the B.C. Coroners Service. A definitive cause has yet to be determined.
“Everything points towards that. There’s suspicion about fentanyl but nothing has been confirmed yet,” he said.
During the last month, seven people in the region have needed medical attention after overdosing.
Although it has yet to be confirmed, police suspect those seven people used drugs laced with fentanyl, an opioid and synthetic pain killer that can be fatal in small doses.
“We’ve noticed a significant increase in overdoses and people needing treatment in the last few weeks,” Hall said.
But also stated overdose statistics are much lower in the Okanagan than places like the Lower Mainland.
“We are pretty low on the spectrum,” he said.
Trevor Cornell, chief medical officer for Interior Health said between 45 to 50 people die of opioid related overdoses each year.
That number is up about 15 deaths from 2011.
Out of those deaths between five to 15 are directly related to fentanyl.
“It is an extremely strong drug. It’s 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine,” he said.
Fentanyl is largely used in hospital settings as an anesthetic because it has a shorter half-life, the length of time it takes the body to get rid of half the medication, than many other drugs.
It is also used in patch form as a painkiller for patients with certain conditions.
Cornell said the drug is highly addictive and often drug dealers lace other drugs with the opioid to intentionally hook users.
“(it is) often used by dealers within the black market to mix with other drugs such as longer acting opioid and mixing it in with heroin or mixing it in with marijuana because the short half-life builds tolerance very quickly,” he said. “A dealer could get someone who regularly uses pot addicted to an opioid without them even knowing it and then push a much harder drug on them.”
Cornell said there is a subset of drug user that uses fentanyl in similar ways as those who use crystal meth.
Opioids depress a users respiratory systems, and in high enough concentrations can cause them to stop breathing and die.
For every death, Cornell estimates 1,000 others have come close to overdosing and about 50 per cent have survived because of treatment received at emergency rooms across the region.
He suggested those who choose to use illicit drugs take smaller-than-normal doses when testing a new supply and ensure someone else is with them in case they go into distress. More harm-reduction advice is available at local health units, some of which provide kits containing Narcan, a medication that can reverse the effects of opioid drugs.