Fentanyl-Related Deaths on Rise in British Columbia

By Paul Gaita 08/13/15

The Canadian province has joined the U.S. in dealing with a sudden increase in overdose deaths.

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The Canadian province of British Columbia has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of overdose deaths related to the prescription painkiller fentanyl.

While effective in treating patients with severe pain, the drug’s potency—about 50 to 100 times the strength of morphine—also makes it very dangerous if used improperly, even in small doses. Because it produces an intense, euphoric effect similar to that of heroin or morphine, dealers have been mixing fentanyl with heroin, which has proven lethal in numerous cases across the globe.

Police in British Columbia have reported more than 55 overdose deaths from fentanyl this year alone, which reflects a 25% increase in such incidents over the past three years.

Similar figures have been reported in other Canadian provinces such as Ontario and Alberta, while fentanyl has been attributed to an alarming number of overdose deaths in the United States, including 200 Pennsylvania residents from 2013 to 2015, and 80 in Rhode Island during the first six months of 2014. Globally, fentanyl has wreaked havoc in countries like Russia, the Ukraine, and Sweden, while manufacturing labs have been seized in Mexico, Germany, Japan, and China.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a nationwide alert about the dangers of fentanyl in March of this year. The statement reported that in 2014, federal, state, and local forensic laboratories identified more than 3,000 items or exhibits in criminal cases as fentanyl, which were associated with cases of pharmacy theft, fraudulent prescriptions, or illegal sales.

That number represents a significant increase from statistics recorded one year earlier, which noted just 942 instances.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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