Calgary

Speedball 2.0: Some Calgary drug users mixing fentanyl with meth to stay alert and safe

Some people using street drugs in Calgary are mixing fentanyl and methamphetamine and it's about being awake and safe, experts tell CBC News.

'The less they sleep, the less at risk they are'

Those working the front lines of Calgary's opioid crisis say some fentanyl users are adding meth to stay awake. (CBC)

Some people using street drugs in Calgary are mixing fentanyl and methamphetamine, saying it's about being awake and safe, experts tell CBC News.

One is a depressant and the other a stimulant.

Det. Colin Harris, with the Calgary Police Service's strategic enforcement unit, said some people want the high of fentanyl, but add methamphetamine not only to stave off potential opioid withdrawal symptoms, but also to stay awake.

"It's a mixture that's been known as a speedball," he said, adding that, years ago, it used to be heroin mixed with cocaine.

"Now we're just seeing fentanyl because it's cheaper, because it's easier to get," he said.

People generally mix the two drugs themselves.

"Methamphetamine has certainly decreased in price in Calgary, so it's very, very prevalent."

According to Alberta Health Services' statistics, meth was the most commonly used drug at Calgary's safe consumption site in June — with more than 1,400 recorded instances. Fentanyl was second with more than 1,100 recorded consumption instances.

Harris said that when speaking with people who use drugs — specifically, those from a homeless or street population — they tell him the only time they feel safe is when they're awake.

And, since they're using opioids like fentanyl, which tend to make a person sleepy, they turn to a stimulant like meth to stay alert.

"Because the less they sleep, the less at risk they are," he said.

Dr. Nick Etches with the province's harm reduction program says he knows clients mix the drugs. (Jennifer Lee/CBC )

Dr. Nick Etches with the province's harm reduction program said he knows clients mix the drugs.

He said Harris is correct in saying the population is doing so partially in an effort to stay alert and to shield themselves from the dangers of living on the streets.

"That is important because it recognizes the unique and profound vulnerability that someone who is caught in a cycle of drug use and homelessness and trauma experiences," he said.

"Many of these individuals are really doing what they can to protect themselves and make it to the next day."

About the Author

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary. In 2018 she headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alberta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson