As the Fraser Health Authority issues a warning after 43 overdoses over a 48-hour period in Surrey, front line workers say it’s the first time they are seeing fentanyl in crack cocaine.
Emergency summit called to action
MP for Surrey-Newton Sukh Dhaliwal is calling for an emergency summit between all levels of government in an attempt to tackle the unprecedented health crisis.
In a statement, Dhaliwal said, “I am requesting that my municipal and provincial counterparts join all Surrey Members of Parliament in a sit down to have detailed discussions on a coordinated response.”
“We have now reached a point of understanding where addiction must be considered as an illness, and treated accordingly,” adds Dhaliwal. “Unlike the previous government, we do not believe that the solution is to simply imprison people suffering with such medical issues.”
Executive Director of the Lookout Emergency Aid Society, Shayne Williams, says it’s distressing times for volunteers who responded to 17 overdoses around 135A Street over the weekend.
Overdose antidote Naloxone in high demand
He says it’s taking a lot more naloxone to reverse an overdose, because of the drug’s potency.
“Depending on how much fentanyl or whatever the drug is tainted with, depending on the potency of that it can take several naloxone injections to being somebody out of the overdose they are in. I think the most I’ve heard of through the weekend in six times somebody got injected with naloxone before they came back.”
Fraser Health’s Chief Medical Health Officer, Dr. Victoria Lee, indicates the current take-home naloxone kits have been successful.
“We have actually in Fraser increased our take home naloxone supply and distribution by 10-fold since the fall of 2015.”
Fraser Health says it has dispensed 857 take-home naloxone kits in the first five months of the year alone.
Doctors say the combination is especially harmful
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall is speaking on the risks of mixing powerful “upper” and “downer” street drugs like fentanyl and crack cocaine.
“Speedballs killed John Belushi. And whether it was the cocaine or whether it was the heroin, I don’t think we know.”
But unlike the so-called “speedball” that killed Belushi, today’s fentanyl is hundreds of times stronger than heroin.
“Because you’ve taken the cocaine, which is making you feel wide awake, you aren’t necessarily aware. And then you take another hit. And then you’ve got enough fentanyl aboard that it just shuts down your respiratory system.”
Government officials weigh in on potential solutions
Meanwhile, federal lawmakers continue to debate what more can be done to combat the overdose crisis.
Surrey-Newton Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal says supervised injection sites play a key role in saving lives.
“These drug addicts can go there instead of shooting on the street.”
But South Surrey White Rock Conservative MP Dianne Watts appears more reluctant.
“The pills are made in labs all over the place and then sold on the street so having an injection site for pills, I don’t know if that’s a correlation.”
Watts says increasing intelligence, and stricter controls at borders and ports is necessary to stop the importation of drugs and precursor chemicals.
Putting aside personal views to help prevent crisis
What’s the response from Surrey’s mayor? Linda Hepner says avoiding drugs altogether is her first piece of advice, and that she’s against stand-alone supervised injection sites.
“I am not in favour of stand alone injection sites, and I can only speak for me, I don’t know where my council would stand on that, but when I see what is happening on the street today and the level of vulnerability and death I have got to move away from that.”
The Fraser Health Authority says its identifying sites for possible supervised consumption services.
Fraser Health says its identifying “priority sites” for safe consumption services.