Chances are by now you’ve heard of fentanyl – an opioid pain medication said to be 50-100 times more powerful than morphine.
Fentanyl patches were originally introduced for palliative patients, but it did not take long for people to start using them recreationally. The patches are often cut up and chewed or smoked or sometimes the medication is scraped off and injected. About five years ago, illicit ‘bootleg’ fentanyl started showing up on the streets. This powdered form of the drug was being mixed and pressed into tablets, coloured green, and sold as counterfeit OxyContin. While many at first did not know they were buying “fake oxy’s”, people eventually started asking for these ‘greenies’, ‘green beans’, or ‘shady 80’s’ specifically, and demand for fentanyl grew.
Because the drug is so cheap, so little is needed to produce an effect, and it is relatively easy for savvy traffickers to import, bootleg fentanyl has been showing up in other drugs like meth and cocaine, and most of the heroin on the streets today contains at least some amount of fentanyl. Unfortunately, the drug is also very toxic and the difference between a non-lethal and lethal dose is miniscule. This is the reason people across the country and locally have been dying at alarming rates.
So what are we doing about it?
- Naloxone – Naloxone is a medication that blocks the effects of opioids and can temporarily ‘reverse’ an opioid overdose. It has been used for decades in cases of overdose in hospitals and by first responders. Naloxone kits and training on how to use them is now available for free at pharmacies and through the Halton Region Health Department to those who use opiates and/or their family or loved ones.
- Pharmacies – Most pharmacies in Halton now carry Naloxone. You can check the Government of Ontario website for a list of pharmacies that carry it for sure, or simply check with your local pharmacy. People must present a valid health card – no other ID or information required. At this point, Naloxone is only available in its injectable format (intra-muscular injection) at pharmacies.
- Halton Region Health Department – People can go to any of the 5 Sexual Health Clinics in Halton (click here for locations) or call Exchange Works Mobile Needle Exchange Program at 905-330-3305. No health card is required, and nasal spray only is available.
- Agencies like ADAPT and CMHA-HRB are equipping their staff, who may work with people who use opiates, with naloxone and providing training on recognizing signs and symptoms of overdose and using a naloxone kit.
- Education – The HOPE Project (Halton Overdose Prevention & Education has been formed as a sub-committee of the Halton Equitable Drug Strategy with members from various community agencies and people with lived experience. The HOPE Project is currently in the process of putting together an overdose awareness and prevention workshop which will be delivered throughout the region to agencies and community members. Check back at the website above for details about a Fall Fentanyl Forum to further discuss what we are seeing in Halton with regard to opioids/fentanyl and our local response.
For more information, call our CMHA-HRB Information and Referral Program at 905-315-8664.
By Angus Coll-Smith
CMHA-HRB Case Manager, Community Concurrent Disorders Program (CCDP)