Pubdate: Fri, 11 Aug 2017
Source: Observer, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017, Sarnia Observer
Author: Neil Bowen
Page: A1


Sarnia cops warn of opioid-laced street drugs after three overdoses -
one of them fatal - in five hours

Three overdoses in mere hours, one of them deadly - the sinister new
face of Southwestern Ontario's opioid drug crisis has killed again,
this time not a week after a rare public health warning about the
often-hidden killer.

A few grains of the powerful painkiller fentanyl, mixed with cocaine,
likely caused a fatal overdose Wednesday night in Sarnia, prompting a
new warning from police in that city about drugs laced with fentanyl.

Within five hours, three separate overdoses were reported, leaving one
person dead and seeing two others admitted to hospital.

The latest toll comes after three health agencies and police in London
last week warned that fentanyl, a drug 100 times more powerful than
morphine, is being added to other street drugs, with users often not
knowing and taking huge risks in the process.

"Normally, people just don't take cocaine and die," said an expert at
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

"It's a testament to the fact that the illegal drug supply has really
never been more dangerous because of the presence of fentanyl and
related compounds," Dr. David Juurlink, Sunnybrook's head of clinical
pharmacology and toxicology, said Thursday.

"There's plenty of problems with cocaine use, but falling asleep and
dying from not breathing is not one of them," he said.

"It's killing people because they don't know what they're

Laurie Hicks, a Sarnia-area women who lost a son to a fentanyl
overdose more than two years ago, is all too familiar with the grim
price the drug can exact, calling fentanyl addiction a death sentence.

"I know the gut-wrenching feeling. My heart just breaks for them
(friends and family)," Hicks said Thursday.

Her son had been clean for four months when, for a reason that will
never be known, he used the drug again. After receiving a prescription
for the drug, Ryan Hicks quickly became addicted and sought the
euphoric high that required increasingly larger doses.

The drug tolerance of people who have been drug-free for some time
drops, and if they return to the same dosage as they last used, an
overdose can follow, said federal drug prosecutor Michael Robb. He
sees the havoc of addiction in cases before the courts.

Resigned to seeing more of the fallout, which he called "a very sad
commentary," Robb said people don't understand the hazard of using a
drug when they don't know what it is. He wants the seriousness of the
problem reflected in significant jail sentences for people trafficking

Christopher Mackie, the London area's chief medical officer of health,
and one of the voices of the fentanyl warning that went out last week,
said he was saddened to hear of the Sarnia death, but that drug users
can't be sure what's in street drugs.

"Who knows what could be in white powder, in particular?" he said. "It
could be just about anything."

With the opioid drug crisis getting no better, Mackie said people
caught up in it should at least go out and get free naloxone kits -
available at pharmacies and public health offices - containing an
antidote that can block the effects of an overdose.

"I can't at all say we're happy to get this news," he said of the
Sarnia death. "(But) people are going to see this happening over and
over again until our community adopts some really dramatic responses.
We absolutely need to have naloxone more widely available, but that's
very much a downstream solution."

Sarnia-Lambton drug addicts number in the thousands, said Hicks, who,
in her addiction-battling advocacy, is often called by worried family
members. While there's help in the community, treatment comes with
waiting lists.

"A couple of months of using can require a lifelong recovery," said

Between April 2014 and June this year, the addiction services branch
of Bluewater Health, the Sarnia hospital, dealt with 1,100 people and
there were 5,500 visits to provide assessments, intervention and
referrals. Those numbers have grown since 2014.

Hicks' advocacy focuses on education, but also getting a
detoxification centre built in Sarnia-Lambton.

Bluewater Health is hiring a person to handle site selection for such
a centre, an expected 24-bed facility with an $8-million cost.

Meanwhile, its withdrawal-management team is ready to respond to
people in substance-abuse crises seven days a week.

"It's important to get involved right then," said Paula Reaume-Zimmer,
vice-president of mental health and addiction services.

Timely intervention is critical because it usually comes when a person
faces a personal dilemma, forcing them to consider changing. That can
vanish when the dilemma ends.

The latest opioid crisis began with OxyContin. When its formulation
was changed, making it tougher to abuse, addicts switched to heroin
and fentanyl.

The combination of cocaine and fentanyl is unusual, since cocaine is a
stimulant while fentanyl kills pain and is a system depressant.
Sellers add fentanyl due to the highly addictive quality that
accompanies the euphoria.

Addiction increases sales and maximizes dealers' profits, but the
people mixing in fentanyl have no expertise.

"They're not mixing like a pharmacist, they just add a bit," said
Sarnia police Const. Giovanni Sottosanti.

It's not known if there was a connection between the three Sarnia
overdoses. Police are looking for the source of the drugs and will try
to determine what the seller knew about what they were trafficking,
which could lead to more serious charges since someone died.

Lambton paramedics administered the antidote naloxone in all three
overdose cases.

- ---------------------------------------------------


About fentanyl

Powerful synthetic opioid drug, up to 50 times more potent than

Dangerous in its own right, it's now showing up cut into other illegal
street drugs.

Implicated in growing numbers of overdose deaths in Canada, including
one in Sarnia Wednesday.

Source of two public health warnings in Southwestern Ontario in the
last week.

Drug has moved west to east in Canada, its toll rising as it moves.
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