In recent weeks, Substance UVic, a drug testing lab based in Victoria, B.C. has issued a public warning on social media after dangerous and potentially fatal levels of fentanyl were detected in multiple samples of cocaine. The lab is a part of a research project carried out by University of Victoria and funded in part by Health Canada, providing free and confidential testing of illicit drugs for dangerous components.
In his interview with CTV News, service coordinator Piotr Burek said that the lab issued the warning after finding multiple positive samples in one week because it is typically very rare to find fentanyl in cocaine samples on Vancouver Island.
“We believe it’s a case of cross contamination. It could still cause harm to someone who doesn’t know it’s in their cocaine,” he said.
According to Substance UVic, cocaine containing fentanyl has been responsible for large numbers of deaths during B.C.’s growing opioid crisis
In 2021, the number of drug overdose-related deaths in B.C. has reached an all-time high, with 2,224 deaths reported by B.C. Coroners Office. Earlier in March, B.C.’s chief coroner had set May 9 as the deadline for the government to create a safer supply policy in collaboration with the BC Centre for Disease Control and the BC Centre on Substance Use.
“In Penticton, specifically, the biggest thing is I’m seeing lots of higher levels of fentanyl in the drug supply as well as ongoing benzodiazepines being present in the fentanyl samples. There’s some cross contamination in the methamphetamine samples as well,” said Amy MacDonald, licensed practical nurse and Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) drug-checking technician at ASK Wellness Society shared, in her interview with Castanet.
As the only FTIR drug-checking technician for the South Okanagan, MacDonald performs around 20 tests a week. “Most of the alerts that you see have been tested with my machine here in Penticton. The toxic drug supply just keeps getting worse — there is no regulated drug supply so there is no way to have safe drugs to use,” she said.
According to Dr. Carol Fenton, a medical health officer with Interior Health, when the toxic drug crisis was declared six years ago, there was some progress made on reducing the number of deaths and opening several harm reduction services, but COVID greatly affected this improvement.
“We saw a decrease in deaths in 2019. But all of that progress was lost with the beginning of the pandemic and we’ve seen progressively worse statistics and more deaths,” she said. “Recently, we’re seeing the highest numbers we’ve ever seen before. The urgency for swift and decisive action for things like safe supply are more needed now than ever.”
On April 14, several non-profit organizations in Penticton will hold an event marking the six year anniversary of the public health emergency’s first declaration.