Police issue warning in Kelowna, B.C., after 5 people die from toxic drugs in 1 day

Kelowna's Spirit of Sale sculpture is lit in purple on Aug. 31 for International Overdose Awareness Day. (Loyal Wooldridge/Facebook - image credit)
Kelowna's Spirit of Sale sculpture is lit in purple on Aug. 31 for International Overdose Awareness Day. (Loyal Wooldridge/Facebook - image credit)

Mounties in the B.C. cities of Kelowna and West Kelowna said five people lost their lives to fatal drug overdoses in a nine-hour span on Saturday.

They're asking drug users to take added precautions before using, such as having their drugs tested or visiting the city's safe consumption site.

"The RCMP are actively on the streets warning the people that they know are users and going to all the shelters," said Kelowna RCMP Const. Mike Della-Paolera in an interview.

"[We're] just making sure that people understand the dangers right now."

In a news release, RCMP said the first death was recorded just after 8 a.m. PT. Paramedics responded to a home on Saucier Avenue and found a man who was unresponsive.

Police said the 32-year-old man was found deceased in his bed and officers observed signs of drug use in the home.

Over the course of the day Saturday, Della-Paolera said officers responded to two other locations for fatal drug overdoses that killed four other people.

Della-Paolera said it appears the unprecedented cluster of deaths in Kelowna is a result of more toxic street drugs circulating in the city.

"We've never had multiple deaths before, so there's obviously some bad drugs out on the street right now," he said.  "It's still too early to tell the source, exactly what's involved — toxicology tests need to be done."

"God willing we won't have any more."

Surrey RCMP
Surrey RCMP

Statistics from July from the B.C. Coroners Service said across the province, six people a day were dying on average from illicit toxic drugs.

Kelowna has a population of around 140,000 people, while West Kelowna has 38,000 residents.

Tyrone Joseph told CBC News that his son's stepbrother was one of the victims along with his friend. Both were in their mid-20s.

"This kid, my son's brother was not a user, he's not a habitual user. He's just a good kid from a nice family. He happened to party and drink. He and his friend are both deceased because of a toxic drug supply," said Joseph on Sunday.

"They chose to use one time and it cost them their lives."

Joseph says the tragedy highlights the urgent need for governments to provide a safe supply of drugs in place of the illicit drugs that are circulating in cities like Kelowna.

'Insanity'

Helen Jennens of Moms Stop the Harm Okanagan, says five deaths in a single day is unacceptable and more needs to be done to supply safe drugs to users and provide adequate resources for recovery.

"This is insanity," she said.

"We just can't understand the government that can actually stomach the number of deaths without doing something. The federal government has got to do something about this," she added.

B.C. is the first province in Canada to offer prescribed safe supply, but advocates continue to lobby Ottawa to enable a regulated drug supply under the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

B.C.'s Coroners Service is now investigating the deaths in Kelowna as police ask drug users to take added precautions, such as using at Kelowna's supervised consumption site, getting drugs tested, not using alone and having Naloxone on hand, which can be used to reverse an overdose.

Interior Health has not issued a toxic drug alert related to any drugs in circulation in Kelowna.

The number of drug toxicity deaths in the first six months of 2022 is the highest ever recorded in that period of a calendar year, according to data released by the B.C. Coroners Service in August.

The tally also means more than 10,000 people have now died as a result of toxic drugs in B.C. since a public health emergency was declared in April 2016.