Coming to an overdose near you 

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Have you sat opposite the parents of a drug overdose victim? You can feel that part of them has died, too.

Have you talked with the police officers that find the overdose victims? They have to tell the family, the friends.

Have you tried to soothe the anguish of such a senseless loss?

Perhaps those of you who have are the best weapon there is right now in the fight against this latest deadly recreational-use drug, fentanyl.

It takes great bravery to speak out about loss of this kind — after all, the death has come after someone has made a choice to take drugs. In some cases, there is little sympathy for the loss.

But in many, many cases of death due to fentanyl, the victim has no idea the risks they are taking.

By speaking out about the victims and telling their stories, people may be able to reach those at risk. Recreational drug users will listen to friends and family in a way they won't to the police or to health services.

Read their stories, feel their pain. Next time you are tempted to reach for drugs think about the people you love and imagine their loss with you gone.

These are drugs made by criminals in homemade basement labs — no one has a chemistry degree here. You have to think the criminals aren't trying to kill their customers — that's bad for business. But don't think for a moment these drugs are made to pharmaceutical standards.

While Whistler RCMP says fentanyl has not yet come to their attention here, the news of a likely drug overdose death in Pemberton has made the headlines across the country about a fentanyl crisis all the more alarming.

Just last week, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told CBC News that the RCMP needs more money to combat Canada's deadly fentanyl trade.

One of the Liberals' campaign promises was to work with provinces and municipalities to form regional task forces to deal with illegal activities, "and this may be one initiative where we can work together focussed on one problem — fentanyl," Goodale told CBC.

An RCMP report prepared for the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and obtained by CBC News describes how organized crime groups started importing powdered fentanyl from China, established high-volume, pill-making labs and expanded trafficking across the country.

Goodale has also suggested restricting the purchase of industrial pill-press machines — a sensible idea considering what is happening. The presses allow crime groups to transform powdered fentanyl into look-a-like OxyContin. One option would be to require someone to have a licence to bring the machines into Canada.

The Canadian Pharmacists Association estimates fentanyl, which is legitimately used as a potent painkiller for those suffering from cancer and other debilitating conditions, is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Police have warned the public that ingesting just a pinch of the drug could cause a fatal overdose.

Last week the B.C. Ministry of Health reported that in 2015, there were 465 apparent illicit drug overdose deaths with fentanyl detected in 30 per cent of them, an increase from the previous year. In 2012, the synthetic opioid was detected in less than five per cent, compared with 15 per cent in 2013 and 25 per cent in 2014.

Statistics from the BC Coroners office show that the number of drug overdoses is not significantly changing, but the causes of the deaths are. The office is also careful to point out the rest of the overdoses, 70 per cent, are caused by heroin, cocaine and amphetamines, so those at risk are not safe just because they avoid fentanyl.

What can we do to keep people safe?

The province made a good start last week when it announced that firefighters in Surrey and Vancouver, the areas with the highest numbers of overdoses, will now carry and administer a potentially life-saving treatment, naloxone, for patients suffering opioid drug overdoses. All paramedics will also now be able to give naloxone.

Any fire department can join the program. While Whistler is not yet seeing fentanyl, surely it is only a matter of time before it does and making sure our first responders have all the tools they need seems a prudent measure.

A review by a British Columbia's coroners' panel released last week found that nearly 200 teens or young adults died of overdoses over a period of five years, primarily because of a delay in getting immediate medical help and a lack of education in recognizing the signs of overdose.

So let's educate people.

Early symptoms of an overdose include: severe sleepiness, slow heartbeat, trouble breathing, slow, shallow breathing or snoring, cold, clammy skin, and trouble walking or talking.

The review found that many of those aged between 13 and 18 who died were with someone at the time they overdosed, while young adults, between 19 and 23, were alone.

Never do drugs alone.

The deaths were mainly caused by a combination of alcohol and drugs and overall, opioids, stimulants and alcohol were the most widely detected substances during autopsies.

Broader access to naloxone is a key part of dealing with the crisis, but so is helping people understand they can call 911 if they or a friend is in trouble after taking drugs. First responders are more interested in saving lives than making an arrest. Perhaps the federal government needs to consider Good Samaritan legislation like some U.S. states have.

Let's be careful out there.



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