By Eric Elliott

Pioneer Staff

The number of illicit drug deaths in B.C continues to increase each month with December numbers increasing to the highest ever recorded in a single month in the province, according to the latest statistics from the B.C. Coroners Service.

Provisional data show that a total 142 persons died as a result of illicit drug use during the month of December, an average of nine every two days. The high numbers from December bring the total deaths in the year of 2016 to 914, an increase of almost 80 per cent from the year prior.

The illicit drug that is getting the most amount of attention in regards to its association with overdoses in the province is fentanyl, which the B.C. Coroners Service did not name specifically in its report due to the ambiguity of the current data, although it hopes to have a more specific report on fentanyl available sometime in March 2017.

At Invermere council on January 24th, Sgt. Bob Vatamaniuck of the Columbia Valley RCMP detachment was on hand to discuss the second and third quarter reports with council. After detailing updates on drinking and driving and personnel related matters, councilor Al Miller questioned Sgt. Vatamaniuck if the local police force is treating the rising number of fentanyl related deaths as a prime concern in the valley.

Yes we are and Ive personally gone to these scenes and its heartbreaking, Sgt. Vatamaniuck said. Were asking for the communitys patience because a lot of these types of investigations can be elongated and not as overt as you may think. Its not as easy as pulling someone over and arresting them or someone coming in and giving a rumour that theyve heard and us kicking a door. Obviously theres investigative steps that need to be taken and those steps take time.

Mayor Gerry Taft expressed additional concern about the fentanyl crisis, questioning whether council or the local Columbia Valley community is able to do anything to help prevent further deaths due to fentanyl usage.

No matter how seasoned the people that use opiates, people that used to use percocet or oxycotin and now the fentanyl, no matter how seasoned they believe they are, were still losing them at an alarming rate, Sgt. Vatamanicuk responded. The drugs are so potent that even a couple of grains in the nostril can be fatal and so if someone has a family member in the house that uses, whether they smoke it or crush it, it can pose a real danger to the public in general.

He cautions the general public to stay away from the drug completely but recommends those who are using or know someone who is using to purchase NARCAN Nasal Spray which is designed to help bring a person who has overdosed out of a comatose state in order to get them to the hospital before the overdose becomes fatal.

Still, as Taft reminded council, one of the issues with fentanyl is that it can be found in numerous other drugs unbeknownst to drug users, which is sometime that can easily prove fatal.

Fortunately we havent run into it here but there are people that I know of with investigations with marijuana thats laced with fentanyl and marijuana is such a common drug that people dont really pay attention, Sgt. Vatamaniuck said. For the most part fentanyl is odorless so youre not going to detect it on your bud and people obviously die from it because theyre not prepared for such a hit to the body.

Regardless of the drug, Sgt. Vatamaniuck reminded council that the RCMP needs the help of the community in order to keep everyone safe and alive in the future.

Were always looking for information and if people care about the community and if they care about their neighbours and whats going on at the school, I invite them to call Crime Stoppers, he said. Any police force is always looking for information because we all know knowledge is power so whenever we think we have a good grasp of whats going on in the community, something doesnt come up out of the blue and that we didnt see it coming.