Officials found a disturbing majority of heroin and other narcotics recently tested at a safe injection site in Vancouver contains a potent chemical linked to scores of overdose deaths.
A study released at the Harm Reduction International conference in Montreal Monday reveals that fentanyl, an opiate-based painkiller roughly 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, is infiltrating drug supplies throughout North America. Roughly 80 percent of the heroin and crystal meth tested at the safe injection site contained fentanyl, as did 40 percent of the cocaine, reports Vancouver Sun.
Rick Lines, executive director of Harm Reduction International, told Vancouver Sun the presence of fentanyl in such large quantities shows the “alarm bells that have been sounding over this public health emergency are fully warranted.”
Safe injection sites, like Insite in Vancouver, provide clean needles and voluntary substance testing to addicts and the staff are trained in the emergency use of Narcan, the overdose reversal drug. Officials conducted the study between July 2016 and March 2017, testing more than 1,000 drug samples, which were mostly heroin.
“Clients at Insite were able to use the results from the drug-checking service to reduce their dose and decrease their risk of overdose,” Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health and lead researcher, told Vancouver Sun. “It was the community that asked for this. Drug users said we want to know what’s in our drugs, so we offered it to them and they’re doing the test and we let them deal with the information.”
Roughly 60 percent of drug overdoses in British Columbia, which claimed more than 900 lives in 2016, are linked to the synthetic opioid fentanyl. In the U.S., fentanyl is found regularly in heroin batches throughout the country and is blamed as a primary driver of increased overdose deaths since 2010.
Fentanyl is also a major problem for police across the country conducting drug raids. In the chaos of a major drug bust, the powder can go airborne, poisoning officers exposed. Many police departments now use protective gear in drug raids and avoid field-testing due to the risk of exposure to potent ingredients.
A police officer involved in a roadside heroin bust Friday overdosed an hour later and had to be revived after fentanyl powder went airborne and absorbed through his skin.
Less than half a teaspoon of pure fentanyl is enough to kill 10 people.
Fatal overdoses from heroin quadrupled over the last five years nationally, according to data released by the National Center for Health Statistics Feb. 24. They say the massive increase in heroin and general opioid abuse in the U.S. since 2010 is driven by lower drug prices and ingredients with higher potency, like fentanyl.
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