British Columbia·Video

The Fentanyl Fix: How do we solve B.C.'s opioid overdose crisis

Fentanyl is a game-changing opioid that has sparked a public health emergency in B.C. But what can be done to stop this overdose crisis?

From cutting off the supply chain to decriminalizing drugs, here are some ideas

A woman who overdosed in a bathroom at St. Paul's hospital gets help. (Frederic Gagnon/CBC)

It's 100 times stronger than heroin and was linked to hundreds of overdose deaths last year across B.C.

Fentanyl is a game-changing opioid that has sparked a public health emergency in the province.

The latest numbers, released Friday, show a staggering 116 people died of an overdose last month  — more than seven deaths every two days.

But how do we stop opioids from reaching users and what can be done to stop this overdose crisis? 

Watch the video to explore 5 big ideas

5 big ideas to fix the fentanyl problem 2:36

The Fentanyl Fix is a week long series exploring potential solutions to B.C.'s opioid overdose crisis. In 2016, 914 British Columbians died by overdosing on illicit drugs.

1. Cut off the supply

According to the Canada Border Services Agency, China is the principal source country of the fentanyl that makes its way into Canada.

China is the main source of fentanyl in Canada. In CBC's Fentanyl Fix series, we look at ideas of how to cut off the supply. 3:00

Experts weigh-in on what effect cutting off illegal fentanyl supplies into B.C. could have on the current opioid crisis.

2. Decriminalize drugs

When people discuss bold options for dealing with British Columbia's drug crisis, decriminalization of all illegal drugs comes up with regularity

Once ridden with a heroin epidemic that affected approximately one per cent of the country's entire population, Portugal decriminalized all illegal drugs in 2001. 

In this photo from Nov. 2010, Tiago, a patient and resident, picks up his lunch from the kitchen of a treatment centre in Lisbon, Portugal. (The Associated Press)

Over time, the drug crisis in Portugal stabilized to the point where it has one of the lowest fatal overdose rates in the world, according to the 2016 United Nations World Drug report.

Read more about Portugal's experience.

3. Manage addiction better

It's a drug that's revolutionized opioid addiction treatment and is credited with saving thousands of lives in British Columbia: Suboxone is a form of opioid replacement therapy that's become more common in recent years alongside methadone.

Suboxone is a form of opioid replacement therapy that helps block opiate withdrawal symptoms and heroin cravings. (Getty Images)

And yet, despite its effectiveness, a small percentage of doctors in B.C. prescribe the drug or even know how to.

Read more about some of the barriers to prescribing suboxone.

4. Expand prescription heroin programs

Prescription heroin has been pointed to as a potential fix for the fentanyl overdose crisis that has been ravaging the Downtown Eastside, and affecting people across the province. 

(Leonardo Palleja/CBC)

But the idea of giving addicts free drugs to inject into their veins is one that gives some people pause, and policy makers have not been quick to adopt injectable therapy as a solution to the overdose crisis.

Read more about the Crosstown Clinic's work. 

5. Treat causes of addiction

While addiction is driven by a complex mix of social and genetic factors that science continues to unravel, trauma is turning out to be one of the main predictors.

Once a person uses and becomes addicted the brain wiring has changed and the choice is no longer there, says Dr. Patricia Mark. (Pixel addict/Flickr)

"The fundamental problem is we live in a screwed up world," as one researcher says. 

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said fentanyl was linked to nearly 1,000 deaths last year. In fact, the B.C Coroners Service has been unable to say how many deaths involved fentanyl last year but, between January and October, fentanyl was detected in 60 per cent of illicit drug overdose deaths.
    Feb 20, 2017 4:05 PM PT