Interior Health issues drug toxicity warning for entire region

British Columbia’s Interior Health Authority issued a toxic drug alert for the entire region on Wednesday due to “extreme” levels of fentanyl and benzodiazepines in drugs being tested.

According to the alert, some supplies contained fentanyl levels 45% above average and levels of etizolam, which is a type of benzodiazepine, 23% above average.

It comes a week after BC’s Chief Coroner announced a record 2,224 people died suspected illicit drug overdoses in 2021, an increase of 26% over the previous year.

Dr. Carol Fenton, Interior Health’s medical officer of health, said the samples were from drugs people bring to drug testing sites to be checked and do not represent the full extent of illegal drugs in circulation.

“There is no quality control. There is no labeling system. When you buy drugs outside the legal system, there is no way to really know what you have” , Fenton said in an interview with Chris Walker on CBC. South Dawn.

The drugs to watch out for are those sold as painkillers according to the warning issued by the health authority. Fenton said this term refers to nervous system depressants.

“They were sometimes sold as heroin or fentanyl or just generic down,” Fenton said.

Fentanyl is an opioid 100 times stronger than morphine, he said.

“Even an amount the size of a grain of sand can cause an overdose. That’s why it’s so difficult for someone to dose safely.”

He said benzodiazepines, on the other hand, are sedatives that are sometimes prescribed for anxiety. While the effects of opioids such as fentanyl can be reversed with the fast-acting drug naloxone, benzodiazepines cannot.

Fenton said it’s important not to use medications alone, always start with a small dose, and have medications tested before taking them. Fenton also recommends that everyone, not just drug addicts, carry naloxone and know how to use it.

Amelia Martzke, coordinator of a drug control program with ANKORS in Nelson, said she has noticed increased demand for their drug-related services, which include access to a safe supply, drug control and drug prevention. overdoses.

“Vulnerable populations and the people we work with face many challenges right now…we really need options like more secure supply available.”

Safe supply?

Fenton said the stigma surrounding drug use has presented challenges to introducing a safe and widespread government-regulated supply.

“We would need physicians willing to prescribe it and given the history of how opioid prescriptions have been enforced by colleges as well as the stigma around drug use…it’s very difficult,” Fenton said.

Martzke said that stigma needs to be addressed first.

“People of all shapes, sizes, colors, backgrounds and incomes use drugs…that person using drugs could be your neighbor, your friend, your daughter or your father.”

Since late 2021, Interior Health has issued separate toxic drug alerts for Nelson, Penticton, Kelowna, Kamloops and Merritt.

The current regional alert is in effect until February 26, 2022.

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