Wave of overdoses in Delta inspire community forum on fentanyl

Concerned parents and area residents joined community leaders in North Delta last week for a public forum on the dangers of fentanyl.

  • Sep. 21, 2016 6:00 a.m.

Panelists take questions from the audience during the Sept. 15 fentanyl forum at North Delta Secondary School. (Left to right: Mark Goheen and Dr. Arlene King of Fraser Health

Concerned parents and area residents joined community leaders in North Delta last week for a public forum on the dangers of fentanyl.

The forum, co-hosted by Delta Police, the Corporation of Delta, the Delta School District, and Fraser Health at North Delta Secondary on Sept. 15, was the second of two held last week in response to growing concerns about fentanyl following a string of overdoses in Delta on Aug. 31.

Speakers discussed a range of topics including what fentanyl is, why it’s dangerous, how prevalent it is and how it can impact even casual users and their families.

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson was the first to speak, expressing her anger and frustration over what she called “a serious and deadly problem in our community.”

“How many times have we repeated ourselves over and over again about the perils of drug use? Schools and police are constantly working to educate our youth, but for some reason the message just isn’t getting across to some,” Jackson said. “This drug abuse issue is not about drug addicts in the Downtown Eastside ladies and gentlemen. It is about recreational drug users in our community. Those people who use drugs occasionally think there is no harm or risk. They think drugs can’t hurt them.”

Jackson went on to take issue with the use of the term “recreational drug user,” saying it sends the wrong message to Delta’s youth.

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson delivers the opening remarks at the Sept. 15 fentanyl forum at North Delta Secondary School.

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson delivers the opening remarks at the Sept. 15 fentanyl forum at North Delta Secondary School. Image credit: James Smith

“To the young people, recreation means fun. It means swimming and biking and watching movies and rock climbing. Yes, recreation is fun; no danger there. But, ladies and gentlemen, drugs are not meant for fun. Drugs are to be used for sick people with terrible diseases like cancer or heart disease. People who use drugs are sick people who require drugs to make them well. When we use the words ‘recreation’ and ‘drugs’ together, there is a connotation that it’s for fun, it’s for recreation. What kind of a message is that for our young people?”

Speakers from the Delta School District, Delta Police and Fraser Health went on to inform the crowded auditorium of the dangers posed by fentanyl, including the chances of ingesting it accidentally because of cross-contamination at the places where the various drugs are processed and the risk of overdose even in first-time users.

Several panelists emphasized that the rising concern over fentanyl does not represent an increase in drug use.

“We don’t think that drug use, as [already] indicated by some of our speakers here this evening, has increased at all. We just think the dangers of drug use have increased as a result of fentanyl,” said Delta Police Chief Neil Dubord. “That’s an important thing to say: We don’t think there’s an epidemic of drug use within our communities, we think that the fentanyl issue around drug use is what the epidemic is and potentially the biggest risk for our community.”

What is fentanyl?

Packaged fentanyl seized by police.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 100 times more powerful than morphine. It’s used legitimately in hospitals as a painkiller and prescribed in the form of prescription patches for long-term pain management.

A lethal dose of pure fentanyl is estimated to be about two milligrams for a typical adult, the equivalent of a couple of grains of salt, so the risk to users is extremely high.

To make matters worse, fentanyl cannot be detected by look, smell or taste, and dealers seldom tell users they are selling fentanyl-laced product.

Because of its potency and relatively low cost, fentanyl has in recent years been used increasingly by drug dealers to cut their product and maximize their profits. The small amount needed also makes it easier to smuggle into the country.

“The problem with fentanyl is it doesn’t take a lot of fentanyl to produce a lot of street-level drugs. So, for instance, if you think of [how] two milligrams or two grains of salt is enough to kill you, think of [how far] a pound of fentanyl could go,” said Sgt. Dave Vaughan-Smith, who spoke at the forum as the DPD’s drug expert.

“Dealers, it’s all about making money for these guys and that’s why fentanyl is so lucrative for them; a small amount goes a really long way and produces a lot of drugs. So fentanyl can be easily smuggled in just because of its size and the way it’s packaged and created.”

Fentanyl is used widely as a cutting agent in heroin and counterfeit oxycodone pills, but has been increasingly found in street level cocaine and other drugs.

Forum inspired by recent fentanyl overdoses

On Aug. 31, emergency crews in South Delta responded to nine overdoses within 20 minutes at four separate locations. All the people are believed to have used fentanyl-laced cocaine bought from the same source.

A day later, 20-year-old Danika Koltai of South Surrey died of a suspected fentanyl overdose at a residence she was visiting in Delta.

Fentanyl has been tied to 62 per cent of the 371 drug-overdose deaths in B.C. in the first half of this year. In 2015, fentanyl was detected in about 30 per cent of all illicit drug deaths.

Fraser Health estimates that if overdose deaths continue at their current rate, there will be approximately 266 deaths in the Fraser Health region in 2016 – a 32 per cent increase over 2015 and a 100 per cent increase over 2014.

Last month, Insite, the supervised injection site on the Downtown Eastside run by Vancouver Coastal Health, reported that 86 per cent of the drugs tested through their pilot voluntary drug checking program were positive for fentanyl.

“These initial results confirm our suspicion that the local drug supply is overwhelmingly contaminated with fentanyl,” said Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) in a press release.

In the first month of testing, from July 7 to Aug. 3, 173 checks were performed and 90 per cent of the checks on heroin and mixtures containing heroin were positive for fentanyl. Fewer checks were performed on cocaine, crack, speed and crystal meth and those that were were less likely to be positive.

Difficult conversations key to keeping our kids safe

Delta Police Chief Neil Dubord delivers the closing remarks at the Sept. 15 fentanyl forum at North Delta Secondary School. Image credit: James Smith

Delta Police Chief Neil Dubord delivers the closing remarks at the Sept. 15 fentanyl forum at North Delta Secondary School. Image credit: James Smith

Dubord closed the evening by issuing a challenge to those in attendance.

“My challenge to you is to have at least one difficult conversation with someone you really care about, whether that be parents to kids, whether that be brother to sister, whether that be friend to friend. The real tragedy about this evening would be if we left here and did absolutely nothing and then we’ve accomplished nothing. So this is a call to action,” Dubord said. “If you knew you could save someone’s life by having this difficult conversation, would you do it? That is your challenge, and that is the price of admission for tonight.”

Anyone interested can view the PowerPoint presentations from the forums, along with a fact sheet, tips for parents and a list of resources, at deltapolice.ca/fentanyl-facts. Delta Police will be posting and answering all the questions they received at both forums in the coming weeks.

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