Fraser Health region sees increase in overdoses

Sep 28, 2021

Over recent months, health officials in the Fraser Health region of B.C. have voiced their concerns regarding an increase in overdoses linked to use of opioids laced with benzodiazepines.

In her interview with CBC News, Dr. Ariella Zbar, medical health officer for the Fraser Health Authority, said that due to opioids being increasingly contaminated with benzodiazepines, first responders have used more naloxone (the drug used to reverse opioid overdose) than usual in recent months.

Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that act as nervous system depressants, including Valium and Xanax, which are typically prescribed to treat conditions such as anxiety and insomnia. Due to their sedative effect, when combined with opioids, which also act as nervous system depressants, they can significantly increase the risk of overdose.

Dr. Zbar also added that benzodiazepines are more resistant to naloxone. “It can be difficult to tell what is mixed in with your drugs. We suggest people start low, go slow and get your drugs tested,” she said.

Currently, data from B.C. Coroners Service shows that there is an average of about five people dying from drug overdose in the province. Furthermore, there have been significantly more overdose deaths in the province so far in 2021 compared to 2020, which had been the deadliest year on record for overdose deaths, with 1,716 lives lost.

“You start to build up a stronger and stronger tolerance, and eventually you seek out a stronger fix. My suspicion is people are adding benzos to the fentanyl to get a stronger effect,” says Trey Helten, the manager of Vancouver’s Overdose Prevention Society and a former opioid user.

“The fentanyl and benzo combination is causing a lot of havoc for people. You black out, you don’t know what happened. You get robbed for everything you have. You can be assaulted, or sexually assaulted.”

In addition, Helten added that testing drugs prior to use is important in order to avoid harmful adulterants and can be done at the Overdose Prevention Society.

“It’s anonymous, it’s free, and all it takes is a small amount of drugs. We put it on the spectrometer and run an infrared light through it, and can see what the cut is on the suspected drugs,” he said. “Information sharing is really crucial to help save lives. As well as drug testing and overdose prevention sites. No one should be [sentenced] to death just because they use drugs.”


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