Central Vancouver Island is seeing a higher than average rate of overdose from a potentially deadly cocktail of drugs, according to the region’s medical health officer.
Dr. Paul Hasselback, Island Health medical health officer for central Vancouver Island, said Nanaimo’s fentanyl overdose rate is higher than the provincial average.
From October 2013 to November 2014 the drug was linked to 18 fatal overdoses in Nanaimo.
“It’s more than 25 per cent here, but overall it’s 25 per cent on the Island… We certainly have been carrying the brunt, or seeing the majority, of the events associated with fentanyl on the Island,” Hasselback said.
Fentanyl is a synthetic narcotic usually prescribed to kill pain, but is up to 100 times more toxic than other opiates.
When mixed with other drugs, it is a deadly cocktail accounting for a high percentage of overdose fatalities in B.C.
It can be concealed in almost any consumable product and is showing up in pill, liquid and powder form.
Since 2012 fentanyl has been present in a steady province-wide rise in illicit drug overdose deaths, according to a Vancouver Police Department press release.
The B.C. Coroners Service reports fentanyl was detected in about 25 per cent of more than 300 illicit drug overdose deaths in 2014, compared to five per cent in 2012.
Overdoses are happening in all segments of society with Nanaimo, Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, Prince George, and Fort St. John reporting the most fatalities.
Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, said illicit fentanyl is being made in China and comes to the Island through the Vancouver drug trade. Police inform hard-core drug users of the danger and many take it anyway, but recreational drug users who have died were, in some cases, likely unaware what they were taking.
“They know the euphoric feeling they get from it,” O’Brien said. “It’s a risk many of them are willing to take. It’s sad because people are going to continue to die from it.”
Police and health authorities have warned of fentanyl’s danger since fall 2013 and are on a new push to get the word out about programs to help drug users protect themselves, such as urine sample testing to determine if drugs they’re taking contain fentanyl and the availability of naloxone, an fentanyl antidote that can save lives when overdoses happen.
“The question is, is it enough?” Hasselback said. “We need to remind people that drugs of this nature can be quite dangerous. We definitely have the use of drugs of this nature in our community and as a result we should be looking at how we can reduce the consequences that are unwanted – and death is definitely an unwanted consequence.”
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