Dr. Graham R. Jones showing a lethal dose of heroin versus fentanyl
Fentanyl – a drug 100 times more potent than morphine and caused over 300 Albertans to die in 2016. Last week Edmonton’s chief toxicologist came to Slave Lake and talked with community members about the drug and the over-dosing epidemic it brings with it.
“Three-hundred-and-forty-three deaths were caused by fentanyl and fentanyl-analogs last year,” said Dr. Graham R. Jones at the Feb. 23 RCMP drug presentation. “It’s very dangerous and if not controlled in a medical setting people can die. It causes impairment of breathing that causes brain damage.”
It’s no secret that the wide-spread use of fentanyl is rising; according to Jones in 2011, 12 people died from overdosing, in 2012 – 40, 2013 – 77, 2014 – 120, 2015 – 257 and as previously mentioned in 2016, 343 people died.
“There’s no indication that this year it’s slowing up,” he said. “There’s close to 30 fentanyl analogs known today and we’re currently screening around 20. It’s hard to say how many there really are because one person alone could produce around 100 analogs.”
For those wondering what a ‘fentaynl analog’ is – to put it simply, it’s more of a sub-section of fentanyl that has other ingredients included in the concoction.
Fortunately, or so it seems, that the fentanyl crisis hasn’t touched down in Slave Lake.
“It’s a very scary drug and it’s definitely important to be aware of it,” said local physician Dr. Cara Robertson. “Luckily it’s not common here but what we are seeing is definitely abuse of alcohol and prescription drugs.”
Robertson added, “Fentanyl is a reasonable drug to use…in a medical setting. But, it does stop breathing and it does cause people to die.”
An attendee asked, “What are the symptoms of an overdose that we should be looking out for?”
“Think drunk but worse,” said other local physician Dr. Keith Martin. “They will have shallow breathing and will not be waking up. You should bring them in right away so we can provide supportive help.”
“What about the naloxone kit?” asked another.
“That is a reversing agent,” said Robertson. “It’s not going to save them but it will give you enough time to get them to the hospital. Think of it like an EpiPen; it’s an antidote but the person will still need medical attention.”
These kits are available through Alberta Health Services and can be purchased for free at Shoppers Drug Mart and Apple Drugs.