This story originally appeared on Simcoe.com on April 3, 2018.
A spike in opioid overdoses throughout the region has doctors on alert.
In February, Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre’s (RVH) emergency department cared for 45 people suffering from unintentional drug overdoses.
Dr. Chris Martin, emergency, intensive care physician and clinical director of the intensive care unit at RVH, said the spike started more than a year ago.
Martin said synthetic fentanyl, either smuggled from overseas or homemade and then cut into street drugs from cocaine and ecstasy to heroin is to blame.
“It’s a very strong painkiller used in an operating room or ICU setting,” Martin said.
Fentanyl, said the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, is 100 times stronger than morphine, while synthetic opioids, like Carfentanil, intended for sedating large animals, is 100 more potent than fentanyl.
Martin said first-time users and regular users were equally at risk of overdose as opioids are showing up in a variety of street drugs.
“Drug dealers aren’t your friend,” Martin said. “Although it’s not a very good business plan, if some of their customers die, they don’t really care.”
Dealers might use opioids to increase the potency of a street drug.
“There really is no safe plan if you use drugs that contain fentanyl,” Martin said. “It’s a very scary time.”
But Martin said telling people not to take drugs wasn’t an effective solution.
“We have to continue to educate recreational drug users,” Martin said. “There was never any safe recreational drug, but now one line of coke could kill you.”
For regular drug users, Martin said, punitive measures were ineffective.
“We need to invest in drug treatment programs,” Martin said.
Providing methadone or suboxone, which prevent withdrawal symptoms, and offering social support, Martin said, were better options for treating addiction than punitive measures.
“There’s a set amount of risk people will take,” Martin said. “If you choose to take street drugs, knowing the risk, carry a Narcan kit.”
Naloxone, available at no cost from pharmacists as Narcan kits, block the effects of opioids.
“It is not a cure,” Martin said. “It gives you a short period of time to restart your breathing and get you to a hospital.”
Kits are available as injectable or nasal applications.