As the number of fentanyl-related deaths across the country continues to rise, Victoria police are keeping a watchful eye on what drugs are surfacing on city streets.
Since making an appearance in Victoria about two years ago, fentanyl has come to the attention of Inspector Scott McGregor of the focused enforcement team a lot more frequently, and it’s causing him concern.
“It’s a concern for us because of the profit margins being increased so significantly that we could potentially see more of it,” said McGregor, adding police have worked closely with ambulance services responding to drug overdoses, distributing naloxone kits to reverse the effects of fentanyl.
“I think it’s probably as prevalent here as it is anywhere else. The drug use is significantly more in Vancouver, but really on a per capita basis I don’t think it’s that different.”
Produced in clandestine laboratories, fentanyl is a potent synthetic opiod analgesic that can appear in the form of pills or powder.
The drug can be prescribed by physicians as an effective pain killer often used to treat individuals with chronic cancer pain or broken bones. If taken in excess, however, fentanyl lowers the heart rate, blood pressure and makes a person sleepy to the point where they can become unconscious and stop breathing.
According to police, the drug is often sold as OxyContin to unsuspecting users since pills are similar in colour and identifying marks. It is also frequently mixed into other street drugs such as heroin.
The problem, however, is that fentanyl is about 100 times more potent than morphine and 20 times more potent than OxyContin. Even one dose can be fatal.
Fentanyl has been responsible for hundreds of deaths across the country. Since July 20, there have been at least four deaths linked to illegal drugs laced with fentanyl in the Metro Vancouver area. The most recent was Aug. 1 when a 17-year-old male died after taking what he thought was Oxycontin with a friend.
Most of the B.C. deaths have occurred in Vancouver, which recorded 29 last year, followed by Nanaimo with 18 deaths. In Victoria, the B.C. coroners office has recorded seven deaths linked to fentanyl since January 2012.
“This has not yet shown itself to be a huge problem in the Greater Victoria area,” said Barb McLintock, spokesperson for the B.C. coroners office. “This is a Lower Mainland problem and a few other strange pockets – one of which is Nanaimo.”
Earlier this year, the spike in fentanyl-related overdose deaths in B.C. prompted police and health authorities to issue a warning to occasional drug users. During the past three years, the percentage of drug overdose deaths in which fentanyl was detected has risen to more than 25 per cent. In more than 80 per cent of those cases, the cause of death was a mixed drug overdose, with fentanyl being just one of the components.
— Pamela Roth