British Columbia

Fraser Health region sees increase in overdoses, warns people to test their drugs

Health officials in the Fraser Health region say opioids laced with benzodiazepines — a class of drugs prescribed to treat conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, and seizures — are at least partly to blame for an increase in overdoses across the region.

Fraser Health Authority says drugs are being laced with benzos

Dr. Ariella Zbar, medical health officer for the Fraser Health Authority, says first responders have had use more naloxone than usual in recent months because opioids are being contaminated with benzos. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

Health officials in the Fraser Health region say opioids laced with benzodiazepines — a class of drugs prescribed to treat conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, and seizures — are at least partly to blame for an increase in overdoses across the region.

Dr. Ariella Zbar, medical health officer for the Fraser Health Authority, says the region received an influx of overdose reports during July and August. 

She says benzos are more resistant to naloxone, the drug used to reverse opioid overdoses, and first responders have had to use more of it than usual. 

"It can be difficult to tell what is mixed in with your drugs. We suggest people start low, go slow and get your drugs tested," says Zbar.

An average of five people are dying of an overdose each day in the province, according to the B.C. Coroners Service. And, so far, 2021 is shaping up to be worse than 2020, which was the deadliest year on record for overdose deaths, with 1,716 lives lost. 

Trey Helten is the manager of Vancouver's Overdose Prevention Society and a former opioid user.

"You start to build up a stronger and stronger tolerance, and eventually you seek out a stronger fix. My suspicion is people are adding benzos to the fentanyl to get a stronger effect," says Helten, who describes the opioid crisis across B.C. as "a nightmare."

"The fentanyl and benzo combination is causing a lot of havoc for people. You black out, you don't know what happened. You get robbed for everything you have. You can be assaulted, or sexually assaulted."

Trey Helten, manager of the Overdose Prevention Society in Vancouver, is shown in 2018. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Helten says testing your drugs is important and can be done at the Overdose Prevention Society. 

"It's anonymous, it's free, and all it takes is a small amount of drugs. We put it on the spectrometer and run an infrared light through it, and can see what the cut is on the suspected drugs," he said. 

"Information sharing is really crucial to help save lives. As well as drug testing and overdose prevention sites. No one should be [sentenced] to death just because they use drugs."

Corrections

  • An average of five people are dying of an overdose each day in the province, according to the B.C. Coroners Service. And, so far, 2021 is shaping up to be worse than 2020, which was the deadliest year on record for overdose deaths, with 1,716 lives lost.
    Aug 29, 2021 8:53 PM PT
  • "You start to build up a stronger and stronger tolerance, and eventually you seek out a stronger fix. My suspicion is people are adding benzos to the fentanyl to get a stronger effect," says Helten, who describes the opioid crisis across B.C. as "a nightmare."
    Aug 29, 2021 8:52 PM PT

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