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Fentanyl conversation needed in Whistler

On Tuesday, Sept. 27, 27-year-old Edmond Paul Adkin of Kamloops died after taking cocaine likely laced with fentanyl while attending a wedding in Kelowna the previous weekend. He was one of five people who overdosed there; the rest survived.

On Tuesday, Sept. 27, 27-year-old Edmond Paul Adkin of Kamloops died after taking cocaine likely laced with fentanyl while attending a wedding in Kelowna the previous weekend.

He was one of five people who overdosed there; the rest survived.

As British Columbia approaches 500 deaths this year from fentanyl, an opioid that allegedly killed, among others, the musician Prince, the level of public anxiety grows.

B.C.'s 2016 deaths are already a 222-per-cent increase over 2015; a public health emergency was declared in April.

Legally used as part of anesthesia to prevent pain following surgery, its main danger as a recreational drug is its potency, with the difference between fatal and non-fatal dosages considered impossible to detect with the naked eye. Users pass out and then stop breathing if the dosage is high enough.

Other recreational drugs are easily cut with fentanyl and therein lies the problem — casual users don't know if they are smoking a joint or snorting a line that has fentanyl in it.

Public concern is finally trickling up to lawmakers.

During her speech to delegates at the Union of BC Municipalities convention on Sept. 28, premier Christy Clark announced a $10-million investment in addiction treatment research and training, including $5-million to support a new B.C. Centre on Substance Abuse.

What is stunning in that previous sentence is the word "new." Drug addiction, especially for the desperately poor in this province, has been an enormous problem for many years, and Clark's comment to UBCM delegates that "hindsight is 20-20" just doesn't cut it. There should have been a centre and research at this level years ago.

Her announcement is a positive step, but what seems to have changed things is that middle-class users are now dying in greater numbers, and more parents are worried that a toke at a party by their teenager might mean ingesting fentanyl along with marijuana.

With that in mind, let's talk about Whistler.

The mid-year report by RCMP to the Resort Municipality of Whistler on Sept. 20 stated that there had been 130 arrests for drug possession in 2016, including cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy. Fentanyl was not on the list — there was no statement about whether or not the previous drugs had been cut with it. If seized, cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy are not tested for it.

Since deaths like Adkin's occurred thanks to a deadly mixture, it might be a good idea to change that approach.

The feeling in Pique's newsroom, where my colleagues and I cover drug usage and community response, has been that fentanyl overdoses or deaths in Whistler are not a matter of if, but when.

Given the sheer volume of events, clubs, parties and weddings, we are uneasy that one day soon someone like Adkin will come to Whistler and take a fatal dose.

Whistler needs to be talking more about this now, openly. The conversation needs to happen with local lawmakers, RCMP, stakeholders and business people. My colleague Lynn Mitges writes in next week's issue on the subject.

She has learned that Whistler bars hold monthly meetings to talk about such issues in their venues. That is commendable.

It's especially important given so many are coming from overseas and may not be aware of the problem here.

But it can't stop there; I'd like to see a public meeting on the subject and open it up to people on the frontline — to hear from those using drugs or seeing drugs being used. They need to feel secure enough to talk about the reality without censure.

The visitors and young workers who use drugs as part of their experience, whether partying or taking a line to get through a shift, need to be a part of that conversation, too.

Act now, before a local catastrophe fuelled by fentanyl compels some public figure to say something appalling like, "hindsight is 20-20."

Silence on the subject is not a dampening or calming thing — it's just silence. For example, Surrey School District and Surrey RCMP have just announced they are hosting a community forum on youth, online safety and fentanyl on Oct. 20.

They are combining the two issues, because of the need there. We don't even have enough information to determine or anticipate what Whistler's needs are.

In the next few years, if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau keeps his word, Marijuana will be legalized in Canada.

If we're all in the habit of openly talking about the challenges of drug use, as well as the pleasures people get out of it, then maybe there will be a silver lining in this fentanyl crisis and we will be prepared for the changes that will bring.

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