On August 21st of this year, drug overdoses in Vancouver surpassed the number of overdoses recorded throughout the city in all of 2016. Largely the result of fentanyl, a potentially fatal opiate, these deaths have prompted Vancouver Coastal Health to open more drug-checking sites across the city.
Originally launched in July of 2016, VCH’s drug-checking project has performed more than 1400 checks, with 80% of the drugs tested showing positive fentanyl results.
Clients of the new drug-checking service in Vancouver will be provided with free testing strips—similar to those used to test urine—to check drugs for fentanyl and carfentanil. The testing strips interact with diluted samples of drugs and give positive or negative readings to indicate the presence of fentanyl and other potentially deadly opiates.
“Vancouver started out as the epicentre. Now we are seeing it creeping out across the country, it’s heading east.”
Fentanyl use is becoming more and more of an issue within Canada with Vancouver police Chief Adam Palmer saying “This is a national issue, and quite frankly, an international issue. We’re seeing it come through the airport… Vancouver started out as the epicentre. Now we are seeing it creeping out across the country, it’s heading east.”
There have been 876 drug overdose deaths in British Columbia as of July 2017, and eighty one percent of those deaths have involved fentanyl.
Currently the RCMP are dealing with about 70 vendors who are shipping fentanyl directly from China into Canada, which has launched a minimum of 20 investigations.
According to the B.C. Coroners Service, deaths related to drug overdose in the first six months of 2017 have risen by 88% as compared to the same period of 2016. It is hoped that by establishing more drug-checking sites, these “heartbreaking” statistics, as described by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, will be diminished.
Fraser Health chief medical health officer, Dr. Victoria Lee says “There is a hidden epidemic, with nearly 70 percent of overdose deaths in Fraser Health occurring at home. Our targeted response is an important step in supporting people who are at a higher risk of dying.” Fraser Health notes that it has been found that many illicit users of opioids have started their relationship with the drug when they were injured, and using it as prescribed. In keeping with this they have changed their prescribing practices, including giving patients different options for pain management, such as the option of working with a physiotherapist or chiropractor.