Fentanyl was the main focus of discussion on Jan. 19 at the Sunshine Coast Regional District’s policing committee, where Staff Sgt Vishal Mathura reported that there have been “at least three deaths associated with fentanyl” on the Sunshine Coast within the last few weeks.
“It wasn’t on our radar a couple of months ago, but it is an issue now,” said Mathura. “And it’s not who we think would be using the drugs. Some of the people who have OD’d recently are not known to the police, they are Joe Blow citizen.”
Mathura’s comments echoed a report released by the BC Coroner’s Service on Jan. 18 that put the total of “apparent illicit drug overdose deaths” in BC at 914 in 2016, with 142 occurring in December alone. This was the highest number of illicit drug overdoses ever recorded in the province, and is due to the potent opiod fentanyl, which has flooded the street drug market.
According to Vancouver Coastal Health, recreational drug users are unwittingly ingesting fentanyl in cocaine, heroin, oxycodone and party drugs.
“People who are using fentanyl are unaware of how potent it is, so what happens is they overdose and they stop breathing,” said Mathura.
Sunshine Coast RCMP are working with Vancouver Coastal Health to determine the scope of the problem here, since overdoses are not normally reported to police. All officers and other emergency responders have been equipped with the opioid antidote naloxone and trained how to administer it.
The drug is dangerous to handle because it is absorbed through the skin. “Police officers are to treat all drugs as if they’ve been contaminated and are keeping up to date with best safe handling practices,” said Mathura.
Vancouver Coastal Health, the RCMP and other agencies have collaborated on a campaign called “Know Your Source” (knowyoursource.ca) to disseminate information about symptoms of overdose and how to respond.
Sunshine Coast RCMP are targeting drug traffickers, trying to find out how fentanyl is reaching the coast, but Mathura noted that tracking suppliers will be difficult since the drug is extremely compact, with an amount the size of a small bar of soap being worth millions of dollars on the street.
“Until recently you were actually able to order fentanyl through the mail from China,” said Mathura. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge moving forward, not just for our police force, but police forces across Canada.”