Pubdate: Wed, 07 Dec 2016
Source: Calgary Sun, The (CN AB)
Copyright: 2016 The Calgary Sun
Author: Yolande Cole
Page: 7


Alberta has never been in more urgent need of providing improved
access to treatment for drug users, says addictions medicine
specialist Dr. Hakique Virani.

Virani said news from the provincial government this week that
carfentanil overdoses have killed 15 people is tragic, as well as

"This is what we expect to happen in this illicit market when we're
not meeting the needs for opioid addiction treatment and still drug
traffickers are going to meet the demand for opioids, and they're
going to do that with the path of least resistance," said Virani, who
is based in Edmonton.

"That means that the opioids we see are going to be more and more
toxic, because you can traffic smaller volumes of them to manufacture
the same number of doses."

Carfentanil is 100 times more toxic than fentanyl, and just micrograms
could be fatal.

Provincial health officials issued a bulletin Monday warning Albertans
about the drug.

"I'm very concerned about the increased number of deaths due to
carfentanil," said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Karen Grimsrud.

"To me it points out that we still have carfentanil in the province
and I want Albertans to be aware of that, as well as how toxic this
particular drug is. Just a small amount can be lethal."

Virani said naloxone, which can reverse a fentanyl overdose, should be
distributed much more widely than it is now. Kits containing the
antidote are available in certain pharmacies and walk-in clinics.

"Colleagues and I across the country are suggesting that now that it's
non-prescription status in places like Alberta, it should be
distributed in convenience stores and high schools and night clubs and
gas stations, everywhere," said Virani.

"One of the challenges of carfentanil is that it's likely to take many
more doses of naloxone to reverse an overdose - and it needs to be
freely available."

The public health physician said the recent overdoses make harm
reduction services "even more critical than they ever were" and point
to the need for expansion of treatment for opioid users.

"With medication therapies like suboxone and in some cases methadone,
we've not come nearly to the level that's required to even put a dent
in this epidemic," he said.

"To think that in a public health emergency we have opioid dependency
treatment clinics that are open until 3 in the afternoon - it's just
mind-boggling. This should be a 24/7 operation."

There are 11 clinics treating opioid dependency in Alberta, including
three that are provincially funded and delivered by Alberta Health
Services. The wait time for the AHS clinic in Calgary is currently
four to six weeks.

 From January to September of this year, 338 Albertans died from an
apparent drug overdose related to fentanyl or another opioid.

Of those deaths, 193 were related to fentanyl, including 82 in
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