British Columbia

Fentanyl deaths spark call to test illegal drugs

Marijuana users suspect their smoke is sometimes laced with fentanyl but harm reduction proponents say it's a crime nobody tests or screens until users die.

Fears of fentanyl-laced marijuana sending fear-waves through drug users

Pot smokers fear fentanyl is showing up in their joints but have no way to easily test, so take the risk and smoke anyway. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Four recent  overdoses involving Fentanyl are raising alarm bells that the substance is ending up in drugs as commonly used as marijuana.

"(We have reports) of people smoking something they picked up and ended up fully passing out and feeling like they literally shut right down," says Bob Hughes, executive director of the ASK Wellness society in Merritt, B.C., and a proponent of harm reduction.

Hughes believes the real crime lies in the lack of controls over illegal drugs. People are taking substances not knowing what is in them at all. He would like to see society push a "test before you ingest" agenda.

The problem is testing like that is not available yet.

"The tragedy is that we just sit back and wait for the toxicology results when somebody dies and we find out that they took fentanyl when they didn't realize that they did," Hughes.

Hughes applauds groups like Ankors, a non profit organization that operates a drug-testing tent at Shambhala Music festival to try to keep people safe. Volunteers say they have seen a drug, alled PMMA or paramethoxymethamphetamine, sold as MDMA that can cause users to overheat.

In 2013 they disposed of 6.8 per cent of the drugs people asked to have tested, or 155 doses, because of concerns.

In 91 cases they could not determine what the substance was. 2014 figures are not yet available.

Fentanyl tablet have been seized across Canada in record numbers this year. (ALERT)

Tests for fentanyl are not commonly available outside of a lab, says Hughes.

Fentanyl can be prescribed by physicians to control extreme pain, but has also been showing up mixed in street drugs, including heroin, oxycodone and even marijuana, according to RCMP.

Fentanyl, has no smell or taste, so it can easily hide in another substance.

"What about a harm reduction tool such as testing to screen out some of these substances?" asked Hughes.

Hughes says hospitals can use spectrograms to detect fentanyl, and there could be tests developed.

"If you allow people to bring their substances and have them tested, it is clearly going to save lives."

North Vancouver couple Amelia and Hardy Leighton were found dead in July after inhaling a street drug laced with fentanyl. They leave behind a two-year-old boy, named Magnus. (Youcaring)


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