Spate of Fentanyl Overdoses in Canada Highlight Harm Reduction Need

Recently, it doesn't seem that I can go more than a day or so without another "fentanyl-themed" article in the daily news/media. While on the one hand, it's great that the issues surrounding fentanyl and opiate use are being recognized and discussed more frequently in the mainstream media, on the other it signifies that we now have a very big issue on our hands.

When it comes to reducing the potentially deadly effects associated with fentanyl use, reporting on the issue only goes so far. Action needs to be taken immediately.

Don't get me wrong; I love the fact that issues relating to drug use, addiction and harm reduction are starting to get the attention that they so very much deserve. My problem, however, is that it is has taken a frightening number of both recreational and regular users dropping like flies for the issue to garner any sort of significant attention. These lives matter just as much as any other, and we are not currently doing enough to prevent more lives being lost to opioid overdose.

This article was first published by Studio L. You can read the original here.

Back in February, I wrote about the alerts and warnings being issued by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) and the Canadian Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (CCENDU) over the increased availability of fake or counterfeit Oxycodone pills containing illicit fentanyl, as well as fatal and non-fatal overdoses assumed to be tied to the drug. Unfortunately, the problem has not gotten any better. Fentanyl has affected Canada coast-to-coast, from Vancouver to Halifax, and just about everywhere in between.

In fact, just last week, CCENDU released a report that looks at the increase of deaths involving fentanyl across Canada between 2009 and 2014. You can check out the full report for yourself here [PDF].

"Between 2009 and 2014, there were at least 655 deaths in Canada where fentanyl was determined to be a cause or a contributing cause. This represents an average of one fentanyl- implicated death every three days over this time period. This figure is likely an underestimate." CCENDU Bulletin, August 2015.

But how is fentanyl making its way onto our streets in the first place?

According to the CCENDU report, fentanyl has entered the Canadian market in two ways. First, it is domestically through the diversion and sale of prescription fentanyl (generally transdermal patches). Second, it is through the smuggling of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues (generally in powdered form) from areas abroad, such as China.

People are going to continue to experiment with and use all sorts of drugs. We've been altering our consciousness with various drugs since prehistoric times, and I'm willing to bet with confidence that this isn't going to be changing anytime soon. That's just how it is. We need to accept this fact and move on to ensuring that those who choose experiment and use drugs are able to do so in the safest way possible. Prohibition doesn't work. Punishment doesn't work. Scare tactics don't work. "Just say NO" doesn't work.

Rather than continue to waste our energy on ineffective and often times harmful drug war tactics, let's move on to saving lives through harm reduction initiatives, shall we?


Studio L is a freelance writer living in Southwestern Ontario. She is a recovering IV drug user, methadone patient, and harm reduction advocate, and covers these issues in her blog.