New Brunswick

Fentanyl-laced drugs are a 'silent killer,' warns Moncton chaplain

A chaplain at a Moncton recovery centre is sounding alarm bells about fentanyl, a drug he describes as “a silent killer.”

At least 3 people at Harvest House have died this year from fentanyl, chaplain says

Randall Pirie, the community chaplain at Harvest House, knows at least three people who have overdosed and died from fentanyl this year in Moncton. (CBC)

The community chaplain at a Moncton recovery centre is sounding alarm bells about a drug he describes as "a silent killer."

Randall Pirie says at least two men and a woman who used services at Harvest House have died from fentanyl use this year. He knows countless others who have overdosed.

Many are buying counterfeit Oxycontin and Dilaudid on the street, not knowing it's laced with a drug estimated to be 100 times more powerful than heroin.

"We're dealing with addicts all the time that are getting exposed to it," Pirie said.

"It's put a lot of people in comas."

A CBC News investigation has found that fentanyl was involved at least 33 drug deaths in the Maritimes, including 15 in New Brunswick.

But the true toll could be higher.

The most up-to-date numbers on drug overdoses in the province come from the coroner and are at least a year out of date.

That means they probably don't include the three people Pirie knows who have died.

"Those statistics need to be published and put out there," Pirie said.

"I don't think we should hide this problem because people are going to die for lack of knowledge. They need to know this is dangerous."

'I know it's here'

A pill with fentanyl is pictured in a video released by the RCMP to warn about the dangers of the drug. (RCMP)
A lack of up-to-date data leaves people like Pirie to rely on what he's hearing on the streets to gauge the risk of fentanyl.

"I know it's here and I know pills are being laced with it because of the deaths we're seeing," Pirie said.

"Also, there's guys here in this recovery that have almost died and been in a comatose state. [They] lost two weeks of their life with no memory."

New Brunswick isn't the only province where it's difficult to figure out which drugs are killing people.

Only British Columbia reports on drug overdoses in almost real-time. With hundreds of drug overdose fatalities this year, the province declared a public health emergency a few months ago.

That forces health officials to publicly report numbers of drug overdoses, similar to American states like Rhode Island and Ohio.

Province won't commit to better overdose tracking

Dr. Jennifer Russell, the acting chief medical officer of health, said she is concerned about fentanyl's potential impact in New Brunswick. (CBC)
In New Brunswick, Dr. Jennifer Russell, the acting chief medical officer of health, said she's concerned about fentanyl and is taking the threat seriously.

But Russell won't commit to tracking drug overdoses in real time and releasing the data online.

"I think with any situation in public health that is like that, we would always have to look at the processes behind how we put those things in place," Russell said.

"And that is something that we are having ongoing conversations about on many topics, not just this one."

Pirie is sure the fentanyl problem in New Brunswick is bigger "than what people are telling us."

Based on information he gets from people on the streets, he guarantees people are using the drug now.

He worries the problem will only get worse.

"My warning would be that anyone who is using pills and using them on a regular basis, at any time you could get a batch that's laced with fentanyl," he said.

"And it could be your last pill."