Questions and fears ramp up over fentanyl in P.E.I.
'It’s important to be prepared for hopefully a situation that will never happen'
The threat of fentanyl-laced drugs has Islanders talking after a public alert issued by P.E.I.'s Department of Health warned that fentanyl was found in cocaine seized by Charlottetown Police.
Green Party leader Peter Bevan-Baker asked in the P.E.I. legislature Friday what government is doing to make naloxone — a life saving opioid antidote — available to Islanders at risk of overdose.
We figured we'd better take some steps in protecting our clients.— Mike MacDonald
"It's important for us as a department to put that information out there for Islanders that may indeed be using street drugs, so they are aware of this and this is a caution to them," replied Robert Mitchell, minister of Health and Wellness.
"Today naloxone is available at all needle exchange sites, province addictions centre, and provincial correctional centres. Island EMS have kits as well as all police forces," Mitchell said.
Kits are also available at UPEI through campus security, as well as in hospitals, and can be purchased for approximately $50 at most Island pharmacies.
One fentanyl-related death in P.E.I.
Bevan-Baker then asked whether the Minister was aware of any fentanyl-related deaths on the Island.
Mitchell didn't have the answer on hand, but his department later released a statement.
"Of the six accidental apparent opioid-related deaths reported in P.E.I. since 2016, one has included fentanyl in the mixed toxicology," the statement said.
Mixed toxicology means that one or more opioids were combined with one or more non-opioid substances like alcohol, a spokesperson explained.
According to the department, surveillance of overdoses and deaths started in 2016, and is reported quarterly on the Health and Wellness website.
'Less than other jurisdictions'
Referencing the opioid crisis and thousands of fentanyl-related deaths in Canada, Bevan-Baker asked what P.E.I.'s Department of Health intends to do to take a proactive approach to protecting the lives of Islanders addicted to drugs.
"Prince Edward Island is not immune to opioid use in our wonderful province," responded Mitchell.
"But our occurrences are significantly less than other jurisdictions, and this is in part because of our methadone program that we recently put in in the past few years."
Mitchell also credited close families with helping Islanders struggling with addiction, as well as existing addictions facilities.
Politicians aren't the only ones giving more thought to the presence of fentanyl in the province and what can be done to keep Islanders safe.
Some P.E.I. businesses and community groups are considering having the kits on hand.
"It's definitely a scary situation and it's something that people have to be aware of, that's for sure," said Mike MacDonald, manager of the Upper Room Food Bank in Charlottetown.
"And with our organization, we figured we'd better take some steps in protecting our clients."
MacDonald plans to stock a couple kits at both the food bank and the soup kitchen and is currently looking into costs and training.
"We hope that it would never be needed," said MacDonald. "But I think it would make myself and our staff and volunteers that much more comfortable knowing we do have the kits. The individuals that use our services are dear to our hearts, and we'll do whatever it takes to help them."
"It's important to be prepared for hopefully a situation that will never happen," MacDonald added.