Fentanyl Found In Startling Number Of Heroin Samples In Canada

By Beth Leipholtz 08/23/18

“Something like 60% of the drugs that we check are not what people think they are,” said the author of a new drug-testing study.

Close up of medical worker in lab

Illicit drugs in Vancouver, Canada may be even more dangerous than we thought, according to a new report. 

The project from the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) found that the majority of drugs sold as heroin in Vancouver do not actually contain heroin, but rather a dangerous synthetic opioid called fentanyl. 

For the project, the BCCSU gave local drug users the opportunity to test their drugs for fentanyl as well as other substances. The study took place from November 2017 to April 2018 at two supervised-consumption sites in the Downtown Eastside area of Vancouver.

In total, 1,714 samples were tested with fentanyl test strips and an infrared spectrometer. 

The results, which the Globe and Mail reports will be published in September in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal, demonstrated that fentanyl was present in a great deal of local drugs, especially heroin. The project also found that types of drugs such as stimulants and hallucinogens are more likely to contain the substance they are sold as.

The findings, according to co-author Mark Lysyshyn, give insight to how problematic the contamination of various drugs is, locally. 

“Something like 60% of the drugs that we check are not what people think they are,” Lysyshyn said on Tuesday, according to the Globe and Mail. “We’ve always had the idea that drugs could be something different, but right now [the contamination rate] is really high.”

During the study, authors found that the majority of drug samples (58.7%) were expected to be opioids. They received 907 samples of what was thought to be heroin, but only 160 (17.6%) of them contained heroin. Of the total 907 samples, 822 contained fentanyl. 

Lysyshyn says the results aren’t necessarily reflective of the illegal drug market as a whole, since the study was concentrated in downtown Vancouver. 

He also added that the intent of the study was not to prove whether an illegal drug is safe, but instead to encourage those who use the drugs to seek out more information about what they are putting into their bodies. 

“I don’t think the purpose of drug checking is to say, ‘These are safe; take them recklessly.’ That’s not what we’re trying to do,” he said. “We’re saying, here’s a bit more information about these substances; they still could be risky. Because even if you find out there’s no fentanyl in your heroin, heroin causes overdoses, too. We don’t want people to forget all about the other harm-reduction advice that we’re giving; this is just additional information that we think could be helpful.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.