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Fentanyl laced with potent animal sedative complicates overdose treatment

More drug education aimed at prevention needed
FILE - First responders in Red Deer regularly treat people experiencing overdoses from street drugs. (Photo by BLACK PRESS)

Fentanyl tainted with an animal tranquilizer continues to show up in Red Deer putting people in greater danger.

Reed Charbonneau, interim executive director at harm reduction agency Turning Point, said xylazine is often combined with fentanyl. But unlike a fentanyl overdose, xylazine does not respond to naloxone.

“It complicates overdoses a lot. People will start to breath, but not wake up for quite a long time,” Charbonneau said about using naloxone to reverse a fentanyl/xylazine overdose.

“It also makes them a lot less safe. People experience sexual assaults, are robbed, a lot of the time.”

As well, xylazine is associated with serious wounds that have a hard time healing.

Charbonneau said people who use fentanyl are quick to experience withdrawal and adding sedatives, even though it doesn’t provide the same effect, delays withdrawal. Regular Turning Point clients have been made aware of the risks of xylazine, but people who use drugs recreationally may not be, and are at extreme risk.


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Stephen Belich, president of International Association of Firefighters Local 1190 Red Deer, said fire medics respond to overdose calls regularly both on the street as well as at nice homes.

“It’s everywhere unfortunately, right across the city, right across the province,” Belich said.

He said anything can part of the mix in street drugs, including tranquilizers and stimulants, so it’s difficult to know how people will react once given naloxone. They could remain unresponsive, or possibly agitated and threatening.

“You end up treating what you can and taking them to the hospital.”

He said maybe a comprehensive drug prevention/education program aimed at students should be developed, similar to past anti-drunk driving campaigns, in addition to more mental health supports.

“Everybody knows that once your into (drugs), it’s really, really hard to get out,” Belich said.

“Have people who went through it come and tell their stories, why they started using the harder drugs, and try to prevent kids from going down that road.”


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Charbonneau said research shows there’s not necessarily more people dealing with substance use disorder, but that the kind of the drugs that are available are extremely, extremely toxic.”

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Susan Zielinski

About the Author: Susan Zielinski

Susan has been with the Red Deer Advocate since 2001. Her reporting has focused on education, social and health issues.
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