Pubdate: Mon, 30 Jan 2017
Source: Telegram, The (CN NF)
Copyright: 2017 The Telegram
Author: Tara Bradbury
Page: A1


Get ready for the worst, intervention counsellor warns province

Andy Bhatti has spent the majority of his life surrounded by hard

As an interventionist, he can talk to you eloquently about the dangers
of drug use, quote Canadian statistics, and offer his ideas about what
programs and services are needed in order to help drug users and stop

He can just as easily slip into the language of a drug user, calling
drugs by their slang names, giving you a list of his acquaintances who
have died, and talking like living in stolen cars and dirty motels
while committing crimes in order to support an expensive addiction is
a regular fact of life.

Bhatti, who's from B.C., has seen both sides: he was once a
15-year-old spending $800 a day on heroin and racking up dozens of
criminal charges. After time in jail, he turned his life around: he
got clean, got certified as a drug an alcohol interventionist, and
started his own charity, raising money for organizations supporting
victims of child sexual abuse.

Through this work helping drug addicts, Bhatti has been across the
country, including Newfoundland and Labrador, hired by families to
intervene in the lives of their loved ones and help them get clean. In
the past two years, he has done five interventions in this province,
bringing each of the clients to B.C. for treatment. Of the five, only
one returned here. All of them are still sober, and one is still in

Bhatti knows Canadian drug trends travel from west to east, and he's
got a message for Newfoundland and Labrador.

"Your province is not equipped to deal with what's coming your way,"
he said. "You're going to see a lot of deaths and a lot of overdoses
unless something changes."

It's no secret that the drugs here are getting scarier. While cocaine
was once the popular drug of choice, now it's opioids, both
prescription and homemade. There's a lot of talk about fentanyl, a
synthetic opioid painkiller with a five minute onset that's set to be
up to 100 times more potent than morphine. Last November, pills seized
by police in the St. John's area thought to be Oxycontin proved upon
testing to be fentanyl in disguise.

Police in Burin warned last week that the same type of pills have
showed up in that area.

"Fentanyl is in everything out here," Bhatti said. "Everything you buy
on the street, Oxys, Ativan, cocaine, everything. Nobody out here
looks for heroin anymore. Why would they?"

"Lean" is popular, Bhatti says. It's a drink made from
prescription-strength cough syrup containing codeine and the
anti-histamine/sedative promethazine, mixed with Sprite and Jolly
Rancher candy, also often laced with fentanyl.

There's also W18, another extremely dangerous opioid police in Calgary
warned after a drug bust a year ago was 100 times more powerful than
fentanyl - 10,000 more powerful than morphine.

"You know what? It's easier to find someone with a naloxone kit out
here than it is to find someone with booster cables," Bhatti said.

Naloxone is an antidote to opioid overdose that will stabilize a
patient until they can get medical attention. With its potential for
immediate death, why would anyone take fentanyl? Bhatti says most
people don't know they're taking it. His most recent client from this
province was shocked to test positive for the drug on a urine test,
Bhatti says, since he thought he was taking Oxycontin and cocaine.

Of the 20 drug-related deaths in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2015,
five were said to have been caused by fentanyl, with 18 of the people
testing positive for one or more opiates, according to statistics from
the province.

In 2014, fentanyl was cited as the cause of three of the 14
drug-related deaths. The previous year, two of the 14 drug-related
deaths were linked to fentanyl.

"We've only heard of fentanyl a few times around, but it's going to
get bigger, this we know," says Tree Walsh, co-ordinator of the AIDS
Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador's Safe Works Access Program
(SWAP). She says while she hasn't heard of any W18 in the province,
fentanyl is being added to "essentially everything" here.

A particular danger, both Walsh and Bhatti say, is the haphazard way
in which the drugs are being created. Bhatti uses a baking analogy: if
you're making chocolate chip cookies, not every one has the same
amount of chips; the first one might have a dozen, while the next one
could have five. The first pill in a batch might not have enough
fentanyl to kill you; the next one very well could.

Walsh doesn't think there's anyone locally making the drugs: "If there
was, we'd know." Those who are cooking them up are absolutely
chemists, she says, able to change one molecule and make something
entirely new and potent.

There's a danger than once tighter measures make it too difficult to
get prescription opiates here, the street versions will slip right

"There's no two ways about that," Walsh said. "That's the way they

The provincial government has acknowledged opioid addiction is a
public health crisis at the moment, and has established an action plan
to address the issue. A number of initiatives have already been put in
place: late November, naloxone kits were distributed across the
province and are available free for anyone at risk of an overdose as
well as their caregivers.

At the Provincial Opioid Addiction Forum in St. John's in early
December, Health Minister John Haggie announced the province will be
providing the drug suboxone as an alternative to methadone for people
undergoing addictions treatment. Considered safer than methadone,
suboxone is a mixture of a syntheic opioid and naloxone that is
available in tablet form and is less likely to cause an overdose than
methadone. Unlike methadone, which can only be taken when the opoids
are out of a person's system, suboxone can be given to a patient right

Methadone requires special authorization to prescribe, and only 14
doctors in the province have a license to do it. Suboxone doesn't
require authorization, so any doctor can prescribe it.
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