British Columbia·FROM THE ARCHIVES

Looking at the fentanyl fix through the lens of history

This week we have been looking at potential solutions for the fentanyl crisis. But the reality is that we've been here — many times before. And we'll likely be here again

A quick look through the CBC archives put today's fentanyl crisis into context

The fentanyl crisis is one of many drug crises observed in B.C. Will the future hold more of the same? (Lethbridge Police Service)

"The drug problem in British Columbia is very real and very serious. No one in this province is immune to the problem. It is costing the taxpayer an enormous amount of money. It is a social problem, as well as a health problem. The answers are not easily found. Neither are the remedies cheap."

It would be easy to think these words pertain to B.C.'s current fentanyl crisis. 

But they don't.

Instead, it's from a coroner's report issued in 1994 in response to the heroin crisis of the early 1990s

This week, CBC News has been looking at potential solutions for today's crisis, which claimed the lives of more than 900 people last year alone. 

But the reality is that we've been here before — several times. And chances are, we'll be here again. 

'Completely predictable'

"This was completely predictable," said Mark Haden, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies Canada. 

"People become traumatized and develop addictions and they gravitate towards drugs to manage their trauma history ... That's been going on for as long as I can remember."

The following video originally aired in 1979 and looks at another prescription drug crisis of the past — over-prescribing and addiction to barbituates and sedatives like Valium.

A doctor and a prescription drug user discuss the barbituate drug crisis of the 70's 2:29

Sedatives, painkillers, stimulants — all available by prescription, just like fentanyl is today, and all with their particular moment of crisis in the past few decades. 

And that doesn't even cover illicit street drugs like heroin, cocaine and psychelics — all with their time in the spotlight as well. 

Even alcohol was once considered an illegal substance worthy of being banned. 

If you've followed our series this week, see how many similarities you can find between it and this story originally broadcast in 1980:

Experts in the 1980s examine why and how people were abusing sedatives. 1:04

New, more potent drugs

The future doesn't offer a much rosier picture. 

Carfentanyl, a drug even more potent than fentanyl, was recently confirmed for the first time in drug users of Metro Vancouver. 

Martin Raithelhuber, an illicit synthetic drug expert with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said the UN has its eyes on newer, more potent drugs. 

"By now, we have records of close to 20 different synthetic opioids, and these are .... new substances," Raithelhuber said. 

Even Haden acknowledges the situation has changed in the past few decades. 

"One of the differences is that we have more chemical soup today than we used to," Haden said.

"The availability of the variety of types of pills that people take fairly freely is a relatively modern observation."


But Haden, who is an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia's School of Population and Public Health, doesn't think history needs to be repeated over and over again.

He sees legalization of illicit substances as the only way forward. 

Over the past week, other experts have offered dozens of solutions to help solve today's fentanyl crisis

These have ranged from looking at blocking the source of fentanyl from China to looking at the link between trauma and addiction.

If history is any indication of the future, one thing remains certain: substance abuse crises are not about to disappear anytime soon. 

The Fentanyl Fix is a week long series exploring potential solutions to B.C.'s opioid overdose crisis. In 2016, over 900 people died in B.C. from illicit drug overdoses.