For better or worse, we’ve come to accept that drugs are basically a permanent issue in modern society. Even legalising marijuana will not address the really deadly crisis that is rapidly spreading across Canada. It is a crisis such as we’ve never seen before, even in the darkest days of heroin, crack and cocaine. Fentanyl is an opioid, a class of painkillers that also includes oxycodone and morphine. Oxycodone introduced the general public to the dangers of these opioids when reports began to emerge of users dying after ingesting very small amounts, often mixed in with other drugs. Abuse of prescription oxycodone led to its replacement by less addictive compounds. The illegal drug trade soon found an alternative. Prescription-grade fentanyl is up to 100 times more toxic than morphine.
Developed first in Belgium in the late 1950’s for use as a pain killer and in medical procedures, it came into wider use in the 1990’s when a time-release version was developed. However, Chinese laboratories then created a much more addictive and powerful version, which began to be distributed by Chinese drug cartels. A quantity the size of two grains of salt can kill a healthy adult. This version reached British Columbia first, but has been gradually spreading east across the country over the past few years. The results have been shocking. Often in with other drugs, and without the knowledge od users, fentanyl has left a swathe of deaths in its wake.
In 2014, the number of deaths caused by fetanyl in Ontario jumped by 28% over the previous year. Early this year, Ottawa police seized almost 9,000 fentanyl pills off the street, the biggest such seizure to date. But the problem is nation-wide. According to a United Nations report, Canadians are the largest users of prescription opioids in the world, making the threat of counterfeit fentanyl pills particularly acute here. According to a recent article in the Globe and Mail, “The widespread use of prescription opioids is behind the rise of a new class of drug addicts, many of whom are turning to the black market to feed their habit. In British Columbia and Alberta, the two hardest-hit provinces, fatal overdoses linked to fentanyl soared from 42 in 2012 to 418 in 2015.”
The fact that fentanyl is being produced in thousands of illegal labs in China makes it extremely difficult for police forces in Canada to stop its importation and distribution in this country. Its presence in other drugs makes it impossible for users to know that they are actually taking fentanyl. This opens them to an increased addiction, if not actual death from the first use. A treatment for fentanyl exists, and naloxone is being made available through pharmacies. This, in itself, is an indication of just how serious the situation is.
It is essential that parents, especially, recognise what is happening in communities. On one day, April 26 this year, there was a record number of overdoses in British Columbia, where emergency services were called out to 130 cases. This was at a time when authorities there believed they were succeeding in reducing the number of fentanyl overdoses in the Province. Director of Patient Care Delivery for BC Ambulance Service, Joe Acker: “We didn’t expect that we’d see another spike. We thought that we were actually winning and we were actually doing some good that was reducing these numbers. So I can’t explain, experts that I speak with can’t explain why we saw such a huge spike this week…I think the answer is, we don’t know… It really does seem to be that it’s just such a huge problem, it’s going to take some time to resolve.”
Although no-one likes to speak about it very much, there is a drug problem in North Grenville, and in our schools too. Reports of OPP raids and seizures are a regular feature of life here, and students will openly admit that drugs are very easy to find around here. Given the growing threat of fentanyl mixed with other “safer” drugs, it is important to know that naloxone kits are available through pharmacies in North Grenville and school boards have organised information sessions on how to use the kits. You are eligible for a free kit if you are a current opioid user, or a past user who is at risk of using again, or a family member, friend or other person able to help someone at risk of an opioid overdose.
In North Grenville, kits are available from the Needle Syringe Program, Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit, 2675 Concession Road, 613-283-2740 Ext. 2415. They can also be acquired at the Equinelle Pharmasave , 90 Royal Landing Gate, Loblaw Pharmacy, 2600 Hwy 43 W Unit 1, and Shoppers Drug Mart, 2727 Country Road 43.
If you missed the information session at St. Michael Catholic High School last week, here are other locations offering free public information sessions for parents to learn about counterfeit drugs, overdose response, prevention and education. Sessions are free and all are welcome.
Thursday, May 18 at Rockland District High School (2 sessions)
French: 6:00 – 7:00 pm
English: 7:30 – 8:30 pm
Carleton Place – Tuesday, May 23 at Notre Dame Catholic High School from 6:30 – 8:00
Casselman – Wednesday, May 31 at École secondaire catholique de Casselman (*French session only: 7:00 – 8:00 pm)