When Victoria pharmacist Alain Vincent began testing local street drugs for the presence of fentanyl, he knew it would be found in heroin.
He was surprised to find the oft-deadly additive present in other drugs that users have brought in for free analysis by pharmacists at STS Pain Pharmacy, however, and is concerned about the trend.
Recent test results indicate that fentanyl is increasingly being found in MDMA, cocaine and crystal meth. Of the samples submitted of late, Vincent said fentanyl has been found a dozen or so times in MDMA and seven in cocaine and crystal meth.
“MDMA was the biggest shocker. We didn’t expect to test (it) at all,” said Vincent, the lead pharmacist at the Cormorant Street pharmacy.
“The MDMA user isn’t the profile of a traditional drug addict; usually it’s kids using it at concerts and clubs. Somebody who only uses MDMA every other weekend and is exposed to fentanyl might not have the same tolerance as someone who uses drugs daily. Even a trace amount could have an affect in the long-term.”
Earlier this year, Vincent and his team began offering free testing of drug samples for fentanyl. He cautions that the results should be taken with a grain of salt, as the test doesn’t tell the user how much fentanyl is found, only that it’s present.
In recent months, there has been an increase in the number of people testing their drugs before ingesting them, with many casual or recreational users going to the pharmacy on weekends.
Despite an increased awareness of fentanyl, the number of overdose deaths has continued to climb across the province. In April, there were 136 suspected overdose deaths, up more than 97 per cent over last year’s April total.
Greater Victoria has recorded 37 illicit drug overdose deaths in 2017, third most in B.C. behind Surrey and Vancouver.
Vincent believes the frequency in which fentanyl is being found illustrates a new trend in Victoria’s drug culture. Since fentanyl can be ordered online and in small quantities, anyone can become a drug dealer.
“You have a total switch in the market where drug dealers were people who had connections and could order big quantities, but not anymore. People can order very small quantities and mix their own batch and create their own business,” he said. “There are too many people in the business and the drug is difficult to mix, which is why it’s so concerning.”
Fentanyl is 20 times more potent than OxyContin, an opioid also used a pain reliever. Even one dose of fentanyl can be fatal.