As British Columbia continues to grapple with skyrocketing rates of fentanyl overdoses, a new study confirms that the highly potent opioid has tainted the majority of drugs on the streets of Vancouver.
Insite, the city’s safe injection facility—and the first of its kind in North America—has found that 86 percent of drugs it tested from July to August contained fentanyl, which is more potent than heroin and around 100 times stronger than morphine. Free drug tests were offered for the first time as part of an ongoing pilot study to help inform people about what’s really in their substances.
Addictions specialists say the results, although from a small sample, signal that Canada’s fentanyl crisis is only getting worse, and other provinces across the country are likely to see similar trends in the near future.
Dr. David Juurlink, head of the clinical and pharmacology department at the University of Toronto said:
“People who use these products are playing Russian roulette,” he said. “It’s now a massive addiction problem, and we need to keep our minds open to any measures that will reduce harm in people who have addictions.” He said the importance of safe injection sites and other harm reduction tools.
“The epidemic is such that any intervention is worth considering, whether it’s testing, safe injection site—nothing should be off the table.”
Public health authorities have ramped up their monitoring of overdoses and overdose deaths in the province, releasing new data every few months. So far, 433 drug overdose deaths have been reported during the first six months of this year—a 75 percent jump from 2015—238 of which are said to have involved fentanyl.
There were 274 fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Alberta last year, and 153 so far this year as of June.
Health Canada has been heavily criticized for its lack of leadership on the opioid crisis, leaving provinces to act on their own.
On Wednesday, the department put out a statement saying it was moving to restrict six chemicals that are used to make illicit fentanyl. Health Canada is expected to host a national opioid summit at some point this fall.
BC overdoses as of March 2016