In a series of stories in national and local newspapers we learn that fentanyl, one of the most potent opioids, is being manufactured and sold on the streets today.
British Columbia and Vancouver, its largest city, is in the grip of a fentanyl overdose epidemic that has killed 755 people. There were a reported 128 deaths in November alone with 13 deaths in one day. These deaths prompted the B.C. government to declare a Public Health State of Emergency.
Illicit fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid smuggled in from China and often cut into heroin or pressed into fake OxyContin tablets. It is reportedly driving the increase in overdoses and deaths. Municipal mayors across Canada are preparing for the epidemic to hit their cities. In November federal and provincial politicians met in Ottawa to discuss a national fentanyl strategy. A few months back Provincial Minister of Health and Long Term Care Eric Hoskins declared a fentanyl public health emergency and has called on the Federal government to declare a Canada-wide fentanyl public health emergency. The Ministry also developed and has available a document called A Strategy to Prevent Opioid Addiction and Overdose in Ontario.
Brantford hasn’t been untouched by the deadly opioid. According to a recent story in The Spectator, in one day Brantford had four suspected fentanyl overdoses within two hours. Brantford Police Service held a roundtable last summer to discuss the looming crisis after four suspected fentanyl overdoses and one death occurred within 48 hours.
The drug fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine. Doctors have been prescribing fentanyl since 1976 for acute pain and terminal illness such as cancer. The problem is criminal elements have learned how to produce the drug. On the street fentanyl is powdered or hard little nuggets known as “pebbles”. Chances are everything a drug dealer sells contains fentanyl. Fentanyl is ingested, snorted, or taken orally in tablet form.
What happens is fentanyl depresses brain function so when a person overdoses they lose energy, eventually drifting into a coma their breathing slows until they stop breathing and die. There is a treatment for those overdosing on fentanyl and it’s called naloxone. Naloxone can reverse the deadly effects of fentanyl overdose if administered in time.
According to a recent article in the Brantford Expositor it’s not just hardened addicts who are dying of overdose. Overdose deaths have spiked among occasional drug users, with fentanyl being detected in marijuana. In the article it mentions carfentanil, fentanyl’s deadly cousin. Carfentanil is said to be lethal in doses as tiny as a grain of salt and 100 times more toxic than fentanyl and undetectable by smell and taste. For the first time in December, carfentanil was found in street drugs seized by Ontario police.
There is increasing alarm for the health and safety of children. The Spectator’s story reports a baby in Brantford spent hours in a parked car with two unconscious adults who had overdosed on fentanyl. Fentanyl is so potent that if a person or child comes in contact with the drug it can be absorbed through the skin and get a person high. For children it could be lethal.
In an Expositor story Andy Koster, executive director, Brant CAS, is raising alarm over the increasing toll Canada’s fentanyl crisis is taking on kids. “I think the wave is just about to hit,” said Koster. “I know everyone is really alarmed about it.”
Recently the Ontario Association of Police Chiefs attended a training session on fentanyl. Ontario’s Chief Coroner Derek Huyer who did the training told the police chiefs their officers have to be trained in the health and public safety of fentanyl. Paramedics need also to be trained to carry and administer the Naloxone treatment kits.
The larger cities are opening supervised-injection sites, however controversial, in hopes of curbing the overdoses. These supervised-injection sites provide a sterile environment which allows drug users to bring their own drugs to inject or consume under the watchful eye of health-care workers. If clients overdose workers are there to revive them. So far Vancouver is the only city who has sanctioned supervised-injection sites. Toronto has applied to Health Canada for supervised-injection sites and other cities like Ottawa, Edmonton and London may follow suit.
For far too long we have left the burden of dealing with drugs to the police. But addiction to opioids shouldn’t be left to the police and courts to deal with. Addiction is not a crime. Addiction is a disease. Addiction is a health issue. This fentanyl epidemic is already starting to spread and it needs to be dealt with in the same fashion as an outbreak of a deadly disease would be.
By District Four Councillor Helen Miller