The Ministry of Health is warning the public about an epidemic of drug use and overdoses connected to fentanyl, a manufactured drug that is said to be up to 100-times more toxic than other opiod-type drugs.
In this case though it’s not just a city problem, and Kitimat has already been hit through suspected fentanyl overdoses over the past 12 months.
As recently as May this year, the Kitimat RCMP were warning the public of fentanyl-laced “oxycotin” pills in the community, which resulted in an overdose to a 39-year-old male on May 17.
That followed a report of two overdoses in one week in March, which then-staff sergeant Phil Harrison said were believed to be linked to fake oxycotin due to the presence of pills branded in a way common to fentanyl laced products at the time: blue colour with the letters CDN pressed on one side and the number 80 on the other.
In one case the person who had overdosed was found near 45 such pills, but the RCMP couldn’t conclude at the time if there was intent to traffic them.
Deputy Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says the issue of this specific drug problem is challenging, noting that they’re trying to reach both habitual drug users and people who are just casual, recreational users.
“Some of those people who may not be as aware of the source of their drugs,” said Henry.
She also points out that “smaller communities are not immune,” to the problem, even as the majority of overdoses have been in the Lower Mainland.
The Harm Reduction Lead at the BC Centre for Disease Control Dr. Jane Buxton says that anonymous surveys of drug users have found traces of fentanyl in people who did not report having taken any, pointing to the risk of consuming illicit drugs which, of course, have no kinds of quality control.
Many people are not aware they are taking fentanyl,” said Buxton.
Henry said there haven’t been any reported overdoses at work camp sites in northern B.C., responding to questioning if there is a problem in such facilities. She said there are known social issues related to work camps but so far no reported overdoses in those facilities.
Henry says there are some tips people can follow that can minimize risk for people who do use illicit drugs. That includes making a plan that someone is able to contact 9-1-1 if there is an emergency, having access to sterile syringes if their injecting themselves, and to inject slowly in case there are unexpected reactions or if the dose itself turns out to be more potent than expected.
Users can also learn about the Take Home Naloxone kits, which are anti-overdose kits designed to reverse the effects of an opiod overdose. That includes heroin and morphine. Information on that is online at towardtheheart.com/naloxone.
There are harm reduction centres across the province as well, including at the health unit at the Kitimat General Hospital, where people can learn about the Take Home Naloxone program.
Underlying this drug problem is the need to discuss it. Having in the open will lead to solutions that can’t found by ignoring it.
“By ignoring it…the stigma that’s attached can make people use in a very unsafe manner,” said Buxton. “I think the conversation needs to be started, and it’s finding someone in the community who is respected but has perspective to share to get the conversation going.”