Pubdate: Fri, 16 Oct 2015
Source: Penticton Herald (CN BC)
Copyright: 2015 The Okanagan Valley Group of Newspapers
Author: Joe Fries
Page: A4


Two people have died and seven more needed medical treatment this
month after overdosing on what the South Okanagan's top Mountie
suspects was a powerful opioid drug.

Penticton RCMP Supt. Kevin Hewco said he believes some of the nine
victims used heroin or marijuana-laced with fentanyl, a synthetic pain
reliever that can be fatal in small doses.

"We've instructed our officers if there's any situation where they're
doing drug seizures now, if they believe it may contain fentanyl, they
have to double-glove and put masks on," he told the board of the
Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen on Thursday.

"It's absolutely deadly in a minimal amount and it can be airborne, so
it's scary stuff."

The seven people who survived their overdoses were all treated at
South Okanagan General Hospital during the first two weeks of October,
while a middle-age man and woman died in their Olalla home last
weekend, according to RCMP Cpl. Sean Hall.

He doesn't believe the cases are linked to a single batch of drugs or
that all of the users took the drug unknowingly, since fentanyl is
sometimes used recreationally.

"Right now, there's no evidence that anyone's out there trying to kill
a bunch of people, that they're lacing this stuff purposely," said
Hall, who leads the South Okanagan RCMP general investigation section.

The drug has been present in the region for years, he added, "but not
to the extent that we're getting it now."

Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than morphine, according to Dr.
Trevor Corneil, who said the drug is manufactured by pharmaceutical
companies for medical use, but is also increasingly being produced in
unregulated labs for sale on the black market.

The Interior Health medical officer said drug dealers will often lace
other opioids, such as heroin, with fentanyl to hook users, much the
same way crystal meth might be added to a stimulant like cocaine for
the same reason.

Opioids depress users' respiratory systems, and in high enough
concentrations can cause them to stop breathing and die if they don't
get help, Corneil explained.

Interior Health records 45 to 55 opioid-related overdose deaths
annually, he said, and fentanyl is typically in the mix in five to 10
of those cases.

"These are just the tip of an iceberg. For every one person that dies,
there are 1,000 who have come close to overdosing, and half of those
have been into one of our emergency rooms," Corneil added. "It's a
problem, and fentanyl is not helping." He suggested those who choose
to use illicit drugs take smaller-than-normal doses when testing a new
supply and ensure someone else is with them in case they go into
distress. More harm-reduction advice is available at local health
units, some of which provide kits containing Narcan, a medication that
can reverse the effects of opioid drugs.

According to the B.C. Coroners Service, fentanyl was present in the
bodies of 54 people who died ofdrug overdoses in the first five months
of this year, most of them in the Lower Mainland.
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