Written by: CBC News
Originally Published: Aug 10, 2020 12:49 PM PT
B.C.'s Interior Health Authority is warning drug users in Kamloops, B.C., of street drugs with a high concentration of fentanyl being sold in the area.
A white powder being sold as cocaine was tested by the ASK Wellness Society, a non-profit organization that provides harm reduction services. It found there was a high level of fentanyl, along with other additives such as caffeine, pain killers and a laxative.
A woman whose friend overdosed last week brought the sample to the society, knowing it has a machine that can test drugs.
ASK Wellness chief executive officer Bob Hughes told Daybreak Kamloops host Shelley Joyce that the consequences of a cocaine user taking these drugs would be "absolutely catastrophic."
"Cocaine is still commonly used as a recreational drug," Hughes said.
"Somebody who would use this product, thinking they're consuming cocaine, they use this and it has fentanyl. They have no tolerance for any kind of opiate. The result is almost an immediate overdose event."
Both Hughes and Interior Health advise anyone who is using street drugs not to use alone and to have naloxone on hand.
If using alone is the only option, Interior Health suggests using the Lifeguard app, which can connect an individual with emergency services if they do experience an overdose. "Obviously this is the worst time to be using street level drugs, because almost all of it is contaminated," Hughes said.
For that reason, Interior Health recommends having drugs tested before use. The warning will remain in effect until Aug. 15.
Overdoses rise across Interior Health
A recent spike in fentanyl-related overdoses has been seen in communities across the province.
Six months into 2020, B.C. recorded 728 fatal overdoses, compared to 981 in all of 2019. As of the end of June, Interior Health, which serves the Okanagan, has faced 115 overdoses, only 24 shy of last year's total.
Helen Jennens is part of an advocacy group called Moms Stop the Harm, which is lobbying to get downtown Kelowna lit up in purple to raise awareness about the increasingly deadly overdose epidemic.
Two of her sons died after overdosing, she said.
Jennens cites the closure of safe consumption sites due to lack of funding and the COVID-19 crisis, and pandemic-related border closures as contributing factors in the fatal overdoses.
She disagrees with a widely held belief that overdose is a choice, whereas COVID-19 is not. "They made a choice to get together," she said, as COVID-19 case numbers continue to climb and health officials warn against large gatherings and parties.
Meanwhile, people still stigmatize drug use as a "moral failing" when it needs to be treated as a medical issue, she says.
"It can happen to anybody," she said.
If someone is experiencing an overdose or is witnessing an overdose, call 911 immediately. If you are in crisis call 1-888-353-2273 for immediate assistance.