Fentanyl warnings posted by Insite in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside
'People are dying because of it,' says Vancouver Coastal Health
Insite, Vancouver's safe injection site, is putting up posters in the Downtown Eastside to warn potential users of street drugs laced with fentanyl.
The warning comes on the heels of a dramatic spike of 16 suspected overdoses on Sunday alone and several deaths linked to illegal drugs laced with fentanyl in the Metro Vancouver area in recent weeks.
The Canadian Pharmacists Association describes the recent overdose deaths credited to the strong opioid as a Canada-wide disaster — and cites Vancouver as ground zero for the spike.
- What is fentanyl?
Fentanyl more powerful than morphine, heroin
Fentanyl is a strong opioid that doctors prescribe to help patients manage chronic pain. It's estimated to be 80 times as powerful as morphine and hundreds of times more powerful than heroin, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It's also found its way onto the streets, sometimes sold as fake OxyContin pills, or laced with other drugs like cocaine.
Kyle, a former drug user who did not want to give his last name, knows first-hand just how dangerous fentanyl is. He recently overdosed on the drug and his close brush with death scared him.
"You just don't know what you're going to get and these things can happen, and you can die," he told CBC. "You're killing people pretty much and you're profiting off people's misery."
Users in the DTES are 'scared'
Insite is trying to get the word out after its staff had to save a user who likely took a drug laced with fentanyl.
"16 overdoses in a 24 hour-period is highly unusual. It's got users scared and the precautions are basic, but they need to be reiterated," said Insite manager Darwin Fisher.
He says users should not do drugs alone, and should always test the dosage and call 911 if they notice any symptoms.
Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, a medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health, says fentanyl is a growing concern in the area.
"The people who are putting together these drugs are not necessarily chemists, so they're making mistakes, and people are dying because of it," he said.
He says there is a widespread use of fentanyl in B.C.
"A third of drug users have fentanyl positive in their urine and most of them don't admit to taking it, so we know it's affecting a lot of drug users. When we see it affecting heroin and also affecting oxycontin, that hits different types of drug users ... injection drug users versus people who are taking pills, we know it's widely used."
Health authorities admit they don't know how much fentanyl is out there, but they hope the peak they're seeing ends soon before there are more deaths.
With files from Eric Rankin and Chris Corday