New P.E.I. survey aims to measure illicit drug use during pandemic
PEERS Alliance believes contamination with fentanyl on the rise due to supply change
A group that promotes harm reduction for Islanders who use drugs is hoping a new survey will help them better understand how the global health pandemic has changed illicit drug use on P.E.I.
The survey is aimed at anyone who consumes illicit drugs, whether that's occasionally or habitually.
Angele Desroches, program co-ordinator with PEERS Alliance, says there's been an increase in drug-related harm nationwide since the start of the pandemic.
"Since the pandemic, we have seen an increase in drug-related harms, including overdose, and that's been the case in Prince Edward Island," said Desroches, adding that she's hearing reports from across the province.
Drugs increasingly laced with fentanyl
She says with the borders closed, the drug supply has changed, and she believes what's available on the Island is increasingly contaminated with fentanyl.
"And that's a concern because we're seeing not only opioid users being affected, but also stimulant users," said Desroches.
"And so recreational cocaine users may not be super aware of the risks involved; similarly with folks who are consuming methamphetamines. Opioid overdose may not be front of mind, but it is certainly a risk as we see these substances become more contaminated with fentanyl."
The survey — called COVID Check-in with PEERS Alliance For Everyone Who Uses Drugs — asks general questions about age and drug use, and other questions about the supply of drugs since the beginning of the pandemic, including access and costs, whether frequency of consumption has changed, and what users think might help increase safety.
Michael Redmond, residential manager of Bedford MacDonald House and co-ordinator for the Community Outreach Centre in Charlottetown, said he's noticed changes since the pandemic as well — and he's heard about them from his clients.
'People just taking risks'
"Things changed quite dramatically because obviously there wasn't as much drugs coming across the bridge," said Redmond.
"So certainly drugs were being diluted, heavier usage, a lot of trading of drugs and prescription drugs, and people just taking risks that they don't normally take. And so that certainly affected a lot of people."
Redmond said those problems include everything from increased agitation to violence among community members. He said the pandemic has been especially hard on anyone with mental health or addictions issues, and he hopes that data captured through the survey will lead to better supports for drug users on P.E.I.
"I think we have to all recognize that we do have a major problem in Charlottetown and in Prince Edward Island with drug usage. And the only way we can address an issue like this is, first of all, recognize we have an issue."
He'd like to see that data result in additional facilities for vulnerable populations, and more mental health support on the ground.
Officials with the alliance hope anyone who uses illicit drugs will take a few minutes to respond to the survey, since data collection is vital to understanding problems and advocating for solutions.
The survey will be available online through the PEERS Alliance social media accounts until Sept. 18.
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