Vancouver Police Believe Nearly All Street Drugs Now Contain Fentanyl

By Paul Gaita 08/30/16

Vancouver police are warning the public about the dangers of fentanyl-laced drugs after a supervised injection site reported 26 overdoses in a 48-hour period.

Vancouver Police Believe Nearly All Street Drugs Now Contain Fentanyl
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Vancouver law enforcement officials are warning recreational drug users that the powerful opioid fentanyl could be found in nearly every substance sold on the street, after the city saw an alarming spike in the number of reported overdoses last week.

Concerns were raised after addiction specialists at the supervised injection site Insite reported 26 overdoses at the facility between Tuesday, August 23, and Thursday, August 25. Though no deaths were reported, the sheer number had Insite staff worried, since five or six overdoses per day is the norm at the site. “We are seeing a lot of experienced users who are overdosing on less than what they normally use,” said Insite manager Darwin Fisher. “They were alarmed and we were alarmed.” 

Vancouver Coastal Health issued a statement on August 24 that linked the overdoses to an “unknown substance,” but could not confirm whether it was fentanyl. But Sgt. Randy Fincham with the Vancouver Police said that the sheer number of street drugs containing fentanyl that his department has uncovered leads him to believe that the powerful pain medication is most likely a factor in this latest rash of overdoses. 

“Virtually all drugs that we’re currently testing that have been seized from overdoses or at the street level contain fentanyl. Except for marijuana,” he noted, adding that individuals purchasing drugs on the street are putting their lives at risk. “If you are a recreational or habitual drug user you are playing a game of Russian roulette,” said Fincham. “The quantity of fentanyl that might be found in those drugs is going to vary from drug to drug, supplier to supplier. You’re running the risk that fentanyl will be found in the drugs you’re using, whether it’s cocaine, whether it’s oxycontin.”

As Canadian law enforcement and health officials attempt to stem the tide of fentanyl-related overdoses, they are also waging war against other powerful drugs crossing into Canada, like the powerful elephant sedative carfentanil, which is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl and was responsible for several overdose deaths in Ohio this year. Authorities suspect that carfentanil is what caused the latest wave of overdoses in the Cincinnati area over the past two weeks.

Two sizable shipments of the drug were intercepted by the Canada Border Services Agency this year alone. Meanwhile, addicts and health care providers have found it difficult to find medical relief due to Canada’s complicated medical system, which requires “daily witnessed ingestion” of the opioid addiction medication buprenorphine for the first two months of treatment.

Local and provincial health services are doing their best to provide assistance at their levels. Insite has kept its facility open for 24-hour periods, while the Provincial Health Services Authority hopes to re-deploy first responders to help with the rising number of daily overdoses. 

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