Fentanyl – The other wildfire

Fentanyl-  the death spreading drug that is this generation’s AIDS crisis

Severely Normal Albertans are hearing more and more about the growing fentanyl crisis in Alberta. The crisis involves those addicted to opiods and the casual recreational user. Given the nature of the drug it also poses risks to first responders and anyone who might have come in casual contact with even a few grains of this vicious drug.

While enforcement is important Alberta cannot ‘arrest’ it way out of this problem. Government and the public have been slow to respond. A high degree of co-ordination among governments and non governmental organizations is needed. The risky decision to set up safe injection sites has been taken in the interests of saving lives. 

Opium from poppies, has been used for thousands of years. Derivatives from opium are morphine, heroin and prescription painkillers like Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin. Then, there are the synthetic brothers of these drugs, methadone and fentanyl (100 times stronger than morphine). And another synthetic variant carfentanyl is 1000 times stronger than morphine.

Fentanyl is a powder and easily mixed with other drugs. It can easy be made into pill form. And because it is easy to make, very potent and easy to transport – it is very hard to control supply. 

Drug users are are mostly exposed to fentanyl inadvertently. Often the dealers don’t know exactly what they are selling.

Canada recorded its first major bust of fentanyl lab in 2013. Nor is much known about the makers of the drugs much of which comes from China. What is known is profits are very lucrative.

In a May 2017 report the Alberta government describes the crisis that is measured in deaths:

  • In 2011 six people died and in 2012 29 died from fentanyl overdoses.

  • The number grew to 66 in 2013 and 117 in 2014.

  • In 2015, 257 more death occurred and in 2016 303 people died.

  • In 2017 176 people died by May 13th more than one person per day!

  • In 2015 there were 7,500 emergency visits associated with opioids.

  • In 2016 the number was up to 9,000 and 30% were from people who came more than once (addicts).

  • 90% of the deaths occur in cities.

  • 80% are males, the largest group are healthy, aged 30 to 34.

In May the federal government passed legislation to relax requirements for safe injection sites in a effort to speed their introduction.

Alberta’s Response:
  • Alberta Health Services started a province-wide take home naloxone program in 2015. The program has been further expanded so that kits are more widely available.

  • The 2016 base budget was $14 million focused on prescription drug monitoring, opioid replacement therapy and beginning the planning for safe injection sites.

  • The budget for 2017was increased by another $30 million

  • In March 2017, the federal government committed an extra $6.0 million which the province matched.

  • Calgary plans to have one safe injection site open this year and Edmonton has proposals for 3 sites.

  • Treatment programs have been started in Grande Prairie and Central Alberta.

  • This May, the province established an emergency commission to respond more fully to the opioid crisis. The Commission co-ordinates Alberta’s response to the crisis. It will also recommend on safe injection sites and the priorities for new Alberta government funding.

  • In addition the new regulation (under the Public Health Act) directs Alberta Health Services to increase services for addiction treatment. The regulation mandates more training for first responders, medical professionals and more widespread availability of naloxone kits.

Enforcement:

Police reports of fentanyl related drug busts are now a common occurrence. The RCMP are working with China’s Public Security Ministry to stem the flow of fentanyl into Canada. The Canadian Border Service regularly inspects suspicious packages and works with local police to catch drug traffickers.

Here is a sample of fentanyl drug busts for the from the past few months.

  • June 22nd Calgary police bust 2 people and find drugs worth $200,000

  • June 27th Blood Tribal police arrest 8 people for trafficking and seize drugs including fentanyl

  • June 3rd Alberta’s police swat team ALERT broke up a major drug ring that operated in Fort McMurray and Edmonton. Drugs, cash and firearms were seized.

  • June 9th A dealer was arrested and 122 fentanyl pills were seized in Grande Prairie .

  • July 28th Police raided a home in Sturgeon County and found $4 million worth of fentanyl pills. They found a pill presses and a cement mixer used to mix fentanyl with other drugs and chemicals. This is the biggest bust in Canada to date.

The Bottom Line

Despite all the efforts of governments, community organizations and law enforcement – the fentanyl death spreading crisis is out of control.  Severely Normal Albertans should be concerned as this blight on the province grows.