Canada's Fentanyl Epidemic

Fentanyl is the most serious public health crisis to hit Canada in decades. The number of fentanyl deaths is alarming, but the state's inability to address the crisis is the more important story. There appears to be no proactive plan to address fentanyl's growing use, let alone strategies to protect the health and safety of fentanyl addicts and users.

Death or disease should not be an inevitability for drug addicts and users. They deserve the same sort of compassion and consideration as anyone else facing significant health challenges.
This is the premise of harm reduction strategies around drug use. That instead of ignoring the realities of drug addicts and users, there is an obligation on the state to minimize the negative impacts of drug use to save and enhance lives. The moral argument is often coupled with economic, public health, and other arguments, but for me, it remains the most significant. The lives of drug addicts and users matter.

Vancouver, particularly the Downtown Eastside (DTES), has become one of the epicentre of the crisis (as well as Edmonton,  where carfentanil — a much more powerful opioid that is used as an elephant tranquilizer — has been linked to 7 deaths over the past few months). Grassroots activists in the DTES, including users, have responded by creating illegal pop-up safe injection sites to ensure that users and addicts have a safe space to use. The volunteer-run project, which was crowdfunded, provides supervision and assistance to users and addicts, ensuring that medical support is available in the case of an overdose. So far, dozens of lives have been saved, and the courage of all those involved is inspiring. Risking criminal charges and potential jail time to address the crisis is nothing short of heroic.

I also admire the reporting of Travis Lupick of the Georgia Straight. Through his reporting, Lupick has demonstrated the extent of the crisis and the meaningful work of grassroots efforts like those in the DTES. How Lupick employs social media, particularly Instagram and Twitter, is particularly compelling, as it provides both a personal and broader contextual account of the crisis. Some examples:

Today (August 31) is International Overdose Awareness Day. It’s an occasion that usually comes and goes without anyone ever knowing it occurred. But this year is different During the first six months of 2016, 371 people died of drug overdoses in British Columbia. That compares to 494 during the entire year of 2015. It puts B.C. on track for 742 drug-overdose deaths by the end of this year. The government can’t ignore a number that is so far beyond historical precedent. (Before 2015, the all-time high for drug-overdose deaths in B.C. was set all the way back in 1998, when there were 400.) And so the government is trying to make a big deal about International Overdose Awareness Day 2016. When I arrived at work this morning, my inbox contained press releases from Health Canada, the provincial government, and Vancouver Coastal Health, all emphasizing the unprecedented efforts they’ve taken to bring the number of deaths back under control. There is going to be a lot of uncritical media coverage based on those press releases. You’re going to read about Health Canada “moving quickly” to restrict the use of chemicals in the production of fentanyl, a toxic opioid that has poisoned North America’s heroin supply. Newspapers will quote representatives of the provincial government boasting about a special “Joint Task Force on Overdose Response” that was convened last month. From Vancouver Coastal Health, there’s a new study out today about drug impurities in the Downtown Eastside. The agency is using that paper to suggest B.C.’s government is a progressive organization that treats addiction as a health-care issue rather than one for law enforcement. All of this is utter bullshit. Here are a few other points to keep in mind as you read about everything the government claims it is doing in response to this problem... Click link in bio to continue reading or visit Straight.com / http://bit.ly/2ccDpfn . For the @georgiastraight. #OverdoseAware2016  #OverdoseAwarenessDay #insite #addiction #mentalhealth #bcpoli #vanpoli #cdnpoli #drugs #harmreduction

A photo posted by travis lupick (@tlupick) on

Amy Sanderson07/12/16