Fentanyl Overdoses Are Spreading Across Canada

By John Lavitt 11/17/15

Our neighbors to the north are also seeing a sharp rise in drug-related deaths.

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There has been a wave of fentanyl overdoses and deaths spreading across Canada. Named as a national public health crisis, health authorities and police officers say they have never encountered a drug as deadly as the fast-acting opioid.

According to police in Calgary and Edmonton, the rate at which officers have responded to overdoses has accelerated and shows no sign of abating. In the first half of 2015, 145 Albertans died from fentanyl abuse and overdose.

“This is the worst drug I’ve seen in my career,” said Staff Sergeant Martin Schiavetta, the head of the Calgary police drug unit. “This is absolutely the worst drug I’ve ever seen because of how toxic it is. The equivalent of two grains of sand will kill you, quickly.”

A cheap and powerful drug, Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin. Easy to manufacture and toxic in small doses, two milligrams is enough to kill the average person in less than 15 minutes. The drug’s spread across Western Canada has coincided with people seeking relief from a local recession.

Sgt. Schiavetta dabbed his eyes when he recalled the youngest victim of the epidemic, a 15-year-old boy, who probably wasn’t even shaving yet when he died with a needle in his arm. The 18-year police veteran explained the extremity of the epidemic. “We have a public health crisis in our community with fentanyl. It’s just frustrating. We are losing so many people at the prime of their life to a drug that is so addictive.”

The provincial health service has activated an emergency command center to respond to the fentanyl epidemic. Roughly $300,000 in funds have been allocated for dispensing kits with the opioid overdose antidote naloxone. Health authorities have asked the federal government to make naloxone available over-the-counter. In addition, law enforcement agencies have requested federal rules to regulate the purchase of commercial pill-presses required to produce fentanyl.

Dr. Ada Bennett, Alberta’s acting chief medical officer, said the province is encouraging the families of opioid users to order the kits from health providers. “It’s a sad situation because we know that so many of the victims are young people,” Dr. Bennett said. “We want people to know that fentanyl is dangerous. People need to know that one pill is enough to cause an overdose. If you are going to do the drug, it is best to have someone nearby so that they can help out.”

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.