Pubdate: Sat, 18 Feb 2017
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Bruce Deachman
Page: A10


The arrests on Thursday of a dozen people in Ottawa believed to be
involved in the trafficking of illicit opioids, coupled with the spike
in recent years of drug overdose deaths in this city, underscores the
need for greater public awareness, says Ottawa Public Health's manager
of clinical programs.

"We follow what's happening across Canada - in Vancouver and Alberta -
where they're seeing large increases in people dying from opioid
overdoses," Andrew Hendriks said.

In Ottawa in 2015, there were 48 deaths from unintentional drug
overdoses, a jump of 32 per cent over the previous year (the rest of
Ontario saw just a six-per-cent increase in the same period). Of the
48 Ottawa deaths, 29 were the result of opioid use, of which 14 were
attributable to fentanyl.

According to Hendriks, the increase in opioid overdoses here is a
direct result of counterfeit prescription drugs making their way into
circulation. On Monday, Ottawa Public Health and the Ottawa Police
Service issued an alert warning residents of counterfeit prescription
drugs in the area. Many of these are manufactured to look and taste
exactly like OxyContin and Percocet and are believed to contain the
opioid fentanyl.

"The more that these counterfeit pills are being mixed with fentanyl,
the more overdose deaths we're predicting will take place," Hendriks
says. "The chance of overdosing when there's fentanyl involved is much

Additionally, carfentanil, a veterinary opioid used in such large
animals as elephants and considered to be 100 times as toxic as
fentanyl, may be headed our way. In the late 2016, carfentanil was
responsible for the deaths of at least 15 Albertans, after first
surfacing in Canada in September, in Vancouver.

According to Hendriks, just three grains of carfentanil are enough for
a person to fatally overdose. So far, no carfentanil-related deaths
have been reported in Ottawa, but, Hendriks warns, "it sounds like
it's moving more east."

Ottawa Public Health has been involved in school programs with all
four area boards. Partnering with such organizations as Rideauwood
Addiction and Family Services, Maison Fraternite drug addiction and
treatment centre, and the Royal Hospital's Early Intervention Program,
they provide a range of services including increasing awareness
surrounding substance use and abuse, substance abuse prevention and
intervention. In the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, these
services begin at Grade 7. In both the OttawaCarleton District School
Board and the Ottawa Catholic School Board these services begin at
Grade 7.

"In the last school year," says Hendriks, "we saw over 4,000 high
school students, and 8,000 Grade 7 and 8 students. And 3,000 parents
were also involved."

Ontario's school curriculum addresses the use of legal and illegal
substances in Grade 3, tobacco in Grade 4, alcohol in Grade 5 and
cannabis and other illicit drugs in Grade 6.

Ottawa Public Health's website, meanwhile, offers a great deal of
information about drugand overdose awareness, with particular
attention paid to fentanyl, carfentanil and other opioids. It also
includes tips for those unwilling to abstain.

Officials hope, too, that more people, whether users or their friends
and families, will access free kits that contain naloxone, an opioid
antidote. They're available at pharmacies and through Ottawa Public

The nearly 50 deaths in Ottawa in 2015, meanwhile, should put to rest
any notion that overdoses are the domain of the young. Ottawa
residents in their 50s accounted for 18, or 37 per cent, of the
deaths, exactly twice that of thirty-somethings, the next largest
cohort. Residents in their 20s accounted for six, or 12 per cent,
while only one death was of someone under 20. The remaining 14 deaths
were split evenly between those in their 40s and those 60 and older.

"Working in schools helps us with the 10- to 19-year-olds," says
Hendriks, "but the 20- to 29-year-olds and the 30- to 39-year-olds, we
need a different approach, so we work with universities and colleges,
like during frosh week.

"And with the 60-plus-year-olds, you're into a world where people are
dealing with chronic pain, and you might have issues where they're
taking multiple pills and they don't always interact well.

"So every age population has different reasons why we want to approach
them, and they need different approaches. So we're all over social
media, making people more aware."
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