Pubdate: Thu, 02 Feb 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Linda Givetash
Page: S2


Provincial health officer says powerful drug, found in recent
treatment-facility tests, may be to blame for spike in deaths last

The appearance of the deadly opioid carfentanil may explain the
dramatic spike in overdoses in British Columbia, despite efforts to
slow the carnage, the provincial health officer says.

Perry Kendall said as the number of overdose deaths climbed to record
levels in November and December, officials suspected the synthetic
drug normally used as a tranquilizer on large animals such as
elephants was to blame.

British Columbia's Health Ministry announced Wednesday a small number
of urine tests conducted over a two-week period at drug-treatment
facilities across Metro Vancouver tested positive for

"It's not good news. It's confirmation of what we had feared," Dr.
Kendall says. "It means the drug supply has become considerably more
dangerous than it was beforehand."

The ministry says carfentanil can be 100 times more toxic than
fentanyl, the drug at the root of the province's overdose crisis.

The tests were done on 1,766 urine samples. Fifty-seven were positive
for carfentanil.

Dr. Kendall said because the samples were collected from people
already in treatment, the numbers may not be representative of what's
happening on the streets.

"It may underrepresent the actual extent to which carfentanil is
present," he said.

There is no reliable way for people to know if carfentanil is laced
with other illicit drugs, and the Health Ministry is urging users to
follow harm-reduction measures, such as having someone sober present
and carrying the opioid antidote naloxone.

Dr. Kendall said overdose-prevention sites that have been set up in a
number of cities become even more important in light of the increased

He also urged occasional drug users who may experiment with substances
such as ecstasy to steer clear.

"You don't know what you're getting. It's much more dangerous," he

The drug testing is part of surveillance measures related to a
public-health emergency declared last April. There were 914
illicit-drug overdoses last year in British Columbia, the highest
number on record.

Dr. Kendall said the presence of carfentanil doesn't change the way
the province has responded to the crisis, but it does make matters
more urgent.

Officials are working to create more options for treatment and make it
easier to access, he said.

"It's a little hard to imagine how we could be running any faster, to
be honest, but we have to try."

The RCMP and China's Ministry of Public Security are working together
to disrupt the supply of illegal carfentanil, fentanyl and other
opioids coming into Canada.

British Columbia's toxicology centre, which provides forensic analysis
on overdose fatalities to the coroner, recently bought new instruments
that are more sensitive and accurate in testing for carfentanil and
other opioids, and regular testing is expected to begin next month.
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