Newfoundland and Labrador struggle with increase of cocaine related deaths

There is a growing opioid crisis in Canada, with drugs such as oxycodone, morphine, fentanyl and methadone accounting for most overdose-related deaths. However, in the first half of 2018 in the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, there was a significant increase in cocaine-related deaths, while opioid deaths declined.

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary drug investigator Charles Shallow says the amount of cocaine on the streets of Newfoundland has not increased in the last year.

“I’ve been doing this a long time now and I believe cocaine has been a scourge for many years,” he said in his interview with CBC News.

The data from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reveal that a total of nine people died of cocaine-related deaths in the first six months of 2018.
Dr. Bruce Hollett, divisional chief of family medicine, chronic pain and addiction at the Waterford Hospital, said he often observes the consequences of cocaine use through patients in his office.

“So instead of being opiates that they’ve returned to, they’re on Suboxone, that’s taken care of, no issue. Now they’ve gone to cocaine. I’m not sure if it’s the cocaine, whether it’s the climate of doom and gloom because oil prices are down and there’s not as much work … but we are finding people are using more cocaine to obliterate social problems.”

Dr. Bruce Hollett, Chief of Family Medicine, Waterford Hospital

Despite the decrease in opioid-related deaths, a recent report by the Canadian Institute of Health Information has revealed that Newfoundland and Labrador has some of the highest opioid poisoning hospitalizations in Atlantic Canada. Interestingly, while in most parts of Canada drug abuse is associated with the age group of 25-45 years, Newfoundland and Labrador has a larger number of users in the 50-to-69 range. Moreover, cocaine is likely the drug of choice for offshore oil workers who are subject to random drug tests since it is quickly eliminated by the body.

The Prescription Monitoring Act, which came into effect on January 1, 2018, to address the growing opioid problem, requires that all prescribers and dispensers in Newfoundland and Labrador must check their patients’ medications profile using the provincial electronic health record prior to prescribing and dispensing a monitored drug.

According to Charles Shallow, the cocaine sold by drug dealers in Newfoundland and Labrador is typically only 50% pure, containing fillers such as creatine, a supplement popular among bodybuilders, sugars, including dextrose, and caffeine powder.

He added that opioids are not normally found mixed in with cocaine on the streets of St. John’s and in the surrounding area, but the painkillers are still easily available. “It appears there is more than enough cocaine to go around, and opiates is another thing that is easily obtainable,” he said.

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