Amy Reid and James Smith, Black Press
DELTA — Delta Police are again warning about the dangers of using illicit drugs after nine people overdosed Wednesday night within 20 minutes at four separate locations.
Ironically, Wednesday was International Overdose Awareness Day.
Delta Police say they believe the drugs were tainted with fentanyl. All nine people were recreational users who believed they were using cocaine.
Police say they were all over 19 and were "young adults."
They had all been together earlier that evening.
The overdoses happened in South Delta, but police wouldn’t be more specific about pinpointing the locations because they say they don't want the public to feel safe using drugs if they don't live in the immediate area.
In each case, the victim had trouble breathing. One person went into full cardiac arrest. Police say Narcan, which is used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, was used successfully on eight of the nine people.
“Whether they did their cocaine all at the same place and all went home and had a reaction, or whether they all bought some, took it home and then did it and had a reaction, we don’t know. But we do know that all of the people are linked,” Delta Sergeant Sarah Swallow said.
Swallow said that although no one died this time, the outcome could easily have been worse. One of the overdose patients was discovered after one of the officers on scene was told that someone had left the group and gone home. When that officer visited the person’s house, they found the patient receiving CPR from a family member.
“This was a person who potentially could have gone home, used alone and had there not been somebody else in the home, well, I’m surprised we didn’t have nine sudden deaths this morning,” Swallow said.
Although she is unaware of any related overdoses last night in other jurisdictions, Swallow said there is concern that this could be the first in a series of similar incidents.
“The dealers aren’t making this [small] amount, they’re making [big] batches. We’re worried this could be the start of a bit of a wave, because if this person was in the area dealing last night, and they dealt to everybody that bought cocaine from that batch, are we going to see more and it’s just people that haven’t used yet?”
Drugs were seized from the scene and Delta Police will be conducting an investigation in an attempt to find the source.
Typically, fentanyl is used to cut heroin, but Swallow says other jurisdictions have found it in a wide variety of drugs as its relatively low cost makes it an attractive option for dealers looking to maximize their profits.
As dangerous as fentanyl is when used to cut heroin, Swallow said it poses an even greater risk to non-opiate drug users.
“Part of what makes this more serious for cocaine users is cocaine users don't have any opiate tolerance,” Swallow said. “So when they take the fentanyl by mistake that they don’t know is in there, then that opiate kind of hits them a lot harder than it would somebody who is a heroin user.”
Swallow said the drug scene in Delta is much more “behind closed doors” than other communities.
“We don’t have the open areas you might see in Surrey or Vancouver. Sometimes we may not even attend to overdose files if it’s just a medical call,” she told the Now. “But Narcan was administered in these cases by fire and ambulance. It is one of the first and certainly the largest scale one that we have seen for sure. That’s a ton in one night.”
This is the latest in what’s being called a drug overdose epidemic that’s seen overdose deaths surge 74 per cent in the first six months of the year in B.C., compared to last.
“The motivation of drug dealing individuals to make money clearly supersedes their social responsibility in this equation and they are selling drugs contaminated with other more devastating drugs to unsuspecting users,” said Dubord.
“Despite the ongoing warnings and media coverage, many drug users still appear to be completely unaware or unprepared to deal with the presence of drugs like fentanyl in the drugs they are using,” he added. “With last night’s overdose it is miraculous that all of patients recovered and we are not this morning talking nine overdose fatalities.”
For people who choose to use drugs, Delta Police are offering the following reminders:
— Fentanyl and W-18 cannot be detected by looks, smell or taste and are being misrepresented and sold by drug dealers as other drugs.
— Do not use alone and start with a small amount.
— Do not mix with other substances as it can increase the risk of overdose.
— Use where help is easily available do not be afraid to call 9-1-1 for assistance
Anyone with information on the overdose cases is asked to call Delta Police at 604.946.4411 or Crime Stoppers, to remain anonymous, at 1.800.222.8477 or www.solvecrime.ca.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Health Canada announced plans to restrict the drugs used to make fentanyl in an effort to combat the ongoing crisis.