Eighty-eight lives were saved in Red Deer in January when naloxone was given to overdosing drug users.
But five city residents still died of drug overdoses in the first month of the year, said Sarah Fleck, nursing manager for the Turning Point harm reduction agency.
So many deaths in a 31-day span is “significant,” she added. By comparison, there were nine fatalities and 204 overdose reversals over the previous four-month period, from September to December 2017.
This huge increase in fatal overdoses early in 2018 suggest “the drugs are really strong,” said Fleck, who gathers these statistics from known information about Turning Point clients.
Police have found heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, ecstasy and other party drugs, are being laced with, not only fentanyl, but also the much deadlier carfentanil. The only legal use for the latter is for tranquilizing large animals, such as elephants.
Fleck said people who use stimulants, such as cocaine, instead of opioids, think they will be safe from unintentionally ingesting fentanyl, but that is no longer true. As these people have less built-up tolerance to opioids, they are in greater danger of overdosing, she added.
A free anti-overdose kit, as distributed by Turning Point, contains three small vials of naloxone, the “opioid antagonist” that can reverse overdose symptoms for a short period, until an ambulance can arrive.
Fleck said some drug users have unintentionally consumed such a massive dose of opioids it can take as many as 18 vials of naloxone consecutively administered into their bloodstream to get them breathing again.
On weekends or after-hours when Turning Point is closed, local pharmacies are open to hand out the life-saving kits. But Fleck said there is often mutual “discomfort” between drug users and pharmacists. And some pharmacies only have a few anti-overdose kits on hand and limit their distribution to one per person — which is not nearly enough to combat the strength of drugs now sold on the street.
Heroin, ecstasy and other drugs are being laced with cheaper fentanyl and carfentanil either to boost profits, or because unknowledgable people are unintentionally creating lethal batches.
Fleck urges all drug users to think ahead, stock up on naloxone kits, and never take drugs when alone.
Most regular drug users know this, she added. It’s weekend users with regular jobs and families they are trying to hide their drug habit from that are in the greatest danger of overdosing without help.
According to Angus-Reid research, one in eight Canadians have family of close friends who faced opioid addiction.
Fleck urges anyone who believes a friend or relative is using to drop in, pick up some naloxone kits, and start a conversation about it.