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This Ain't Dope

From this January to August, British Columbia has seen 488 fentanyl-related deaths, which is a massive increase in the number of deaths compared to the same period in 2015. What’s going on?

According to Statistics Canada, roughly 199 out of 207 fentanyl-related deaths studied in toxicology reports showed at least one other substance detected. In almost half of the deaths, cocaine was detected, while alcohol (36%), meth (34%), and heroin (30%), were also highly present in the findings. Now, these numbers might not mean much at first glance, but what they really signify is that a large proportion of these deaths aren’t as black and white as someone accidentally taking a lethal dosage of straight-up fentanyl.

...fentanyl, can depress the respiratory system, causing a user to ‘nod off’ and eventually stop breathing during an overdose.

Throughout the past months, we’ve heard stories of dozens of people scoring some coke, only to overdose on seemingly normal amounts; later finding out it was laced with fentanyl. Many of the people who are overdosing on fentanyl aren’t even aware that they are taking it because it has the potential to be cut into a plethora of other drugs (since it can be snorted, smoked, swallowed, and injected).

You might be wondering a couple things- why is fentanyl so deadly, and why the fuck would any rational dealer cut their other products with this drug?

Firstly, for anyone who doesn’t know much about fentanyl, it is a synthetic opiate which primary pharmaceutical purpose is to manage pain (similarly to morphine and oxycodone). However, fentanyl is roughly 100 times more powerful than morphine, and 50 times more powerful than heroin. You can then imagine how small the lethal dosage might be, especially for someone who has never exposed his or her body to another opiate or has little tolerance to this class of drugs.

Right now is probably not the best time to be dabbling in substances...

Too much of any downer, such as fentanyl, can depress the respiratory system, causing a user to ‘nod off’ and eventually stop breathing during an overdose. What’s worse is that naloxone, which is the treatment used to reverse opioid overdose effects, has a half-life of 30 to 81 minutes while fentanyl has a half-life of anywhere from 3 to 6 hours depending on how it is taken. This means that administering one dosage of naloxone might not be enough to save a life because the fentanyl will still be highly present in an individual by the time the naloxone wears off.

Fentanyl is more frequently getting cut into other drugs, such as cocaine, but doesn’t the risk of killing many of your customers seem like an inherently bad idea for business? Why would you, as a dealer, decide to cut your product with this? Well, for one, it increases potency for less cost. The majority of fentanyl on the street is non-pharmaceutical, meaning it is probably made in a dusty lab somewhere with zero quality control. This also means it is super cheap and readily available, leading to more expensive drugs, like cocaine, to be cut with this cheaper product while providing a high potency. Unfortunately, many dealers cutting with fentanyl are simply unequipped to measure a safe amount of fentanyl to add to their other products.

Right now is probably not the best time to be dabbling in substances, but at the least, people should be aware of symptoms of an opioid overdose, such as tiny pupils, decreased breathing, and unconsciousness. Always call 9-1-1 if you think someone is overdosing. British Columbia Harm Reduction offers naloxone training and take-home kits, and the province has even made naloxone available without prescription. This means anyone can get it from a pharmacy and potentially save a friend or family member’s life.

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