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OACP Opioid Crisis

They do it for fun every now and then – popping pills, snorting lines, taking hits. They don’t think it’s a big deal; they just want to unwind with friends on a Friday night, amplify the concert-going experience, have a good time. It never crosses their minds that they may be putting their lives in danger. After all, drug overdoses are akin to addicts, those seen shooting heroin in dingy back alleys or to rock stars snorting cocaine in dimly lit greenrooms, surrounded by groupies.  

But in the wake of the escalating opioid crisis in Canada, there is particular concern around partygoers’ exposure to recreational drugs, which are increasingly being laced with illicit drugs like fentanyl, a synthetic opioid similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times stronger. Mark Lysyshyn, the Vancouver Coastal Health medical officer, previously commented that the majority of people dying from using fentanyl are not using injection drugs, they’re mostly recreational drug users.[1] A far cry from the picture the media has painted.

Part of the problem is that many of the recreational users who are overdosing are unsuspecting. They thought they purchased straight oxycodone, ecstasy, heroin, MDMA or cocaine. In reality, investigators are finding these drugs to be laced with fentanyl or carfentanil, and for the latter, all it takes is a dose the size of a grain of salt to kill an unsuspecting user.[2] It’s an unfortunate end to what was supposed to be a fun night partying with friends.

Continued education around the risks of recreational drugs is key. Canadians also need to be aware of the signs to watch out for – and know what to do – if confronted with a suspected opioid poisoning or overdose situation. Having Naloxone, a medication used to reverse the effects of known or suspected opioid overdoses, on hand in the event someone is using recreational drugs is an integral piece of the puzzle as well.

There is no one correct answer in combatting the crisis, but providing Canadians with the necessary resources, whether it is continued education and training, or increased access to life-saving medications such as Naloxone, is truly the first step towards making a change.

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[1] CBC.ca: Fentanyl overdoses spike among recreational drug users in B.C. Available at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/fentanyl-overdoses-spike-among-recreational-drug-users-in-b-c-1.2978521. Accessed November 2017.

[2] Huffingtonpost.ca: P.E.I. Police Photo Shows Just How Little Fentanyl And Carfentanil It Takes To Kill. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2017/05/02/fentanyl-carfentanil_n_16397030.html. Accessed November 2017.