Fa­tal opi­oid over­doses de­cline in re­gion, but deadly car­fen­tanil now preva­lent

Waterloo Region Record - - Local - LISA RUT­LEDGE Cam­bridge Times

Fa­tal opi­oid over­doses in Water­loo Re­gion are trend­ing down com­pared to this time last year, but it's un­cer­tain if the trend will con­tinue as the much dead­lier drug car­fen­tanil grows in pop­u­lar­ity.

A review pre­sented to Water­loo Re­gional Po­lice Ser­vice Board mem­bers on Wed­nes­day in­di­cates there were 13 fa­tal opi­oid re­lated over­doses in the first four months of this year, com­pared to more than 21 for the same pe­riod in 2017.

Sta­tis­tics for 2017 may ac­tu­ally be higher, as no re­ports are avail­able for Jan­uary last year.

The de­cline is cau­tiously re­garded as a pos­i­tive re­sult in an on­go­ing campaign to raise awareness about the risks of us­ing deadly boot­leg drugs, sup­ported by harm reduction ed­u­ca­tion mea­sures in a bid to pre­vent deaths.

The down­ward trend has also been at­trib­uted to the in­creased avail­abil­ity of the life-saving an­ti­dote, nalox­one, en­abling pri­vate cit­i­zens to re­vive in­di­vid­u­als over­dos­ing on opi­oids.

In pre­sent­ing his re­port, Insp. Dave Bishop of in­tel­li­gence ser­vices, said that while fa­tal over­dose num­bers are down, po­lice aren’t in any po­si­tion yet to say they’re win­ning the war in the on­go­ing opi­oid cri­sis.

“One of the things we have seen, which is very con­cern­ing for us, is that car­fen­tanil is now

be­com­ing preva­lent,” he told the board.

Car­fen­tanil, a drug de­signed to tran­quil­ize large an­i­mals like ele­phants and 100 times more po­tent than fen­tanyl, is reg­u­larly show­ing up as a con­firmed in­gre­di­ent in the deadly mixes of opi­oids seized by po­lice.

A re­cent warn­ing was is­sued fol­low­ing a seizure of a car­fen­tanil-laced drug dubbed pur­ple play­dough be­cause of its soft, doughy ap­pear­ance and tex­ture.

What wor­ries emer­gency re­spon­ders, in­clud­ing po­lice and paramedics, is that peo­ple us­ing opi­oids have no way to know what they’re tak­ing, and are more likely to con­sume quan­ti­ties of car­fen­tanil, in­creas­ing over­dose risks.

Those in­creased risks present con­se­quences in at­tempts to save lives.

“Of­fi­cers and paramedics are find­ing that re­viv­ing over­dose pa­tients now some­times re­quires mul­ti­ple doses of nalox­one, and in­creased med­i­cal care,” Bishop said in his re­port.

Since re­gional po­lice started car­ry­ing nalox­one — two doses per kit — they have ad­min­is­tered the an­ti­dote 33 times, 11 of those times this year.

While po­lice re­main cau­tiously op­ti­mistic about re­ports show­ing down­ward trends in drug over­doses and fa­tal over­doses, po­lice lead­ers ac­knowl­edge sta­tis­tics may not nec­es­sar­ily mir­ror re­al­ity.

Many over­doses — not in­clud­ing fa­tal in­ci­dents — are of­ten not re­ported to po­lice due to the avail­abil­ity of nalox­one and ed­u­ca­tion dis­cour­ag­ing in­di­vid­u­als from us­ing alone. Over­dose vic­tims are of­ten re­vived by friends with­out even calling po­lice or seek­ing fur­ther med­i­cal at­ten­tion.

Of the over­doses re­ported, po­lice are find­ing the most aren’t oc­cur­ring in the core down­town ar­eas as some might ex­pect.

“Our over­dose deaths con­tinue to be pri­mar­ily res­i­den­tial, and in sub­ur­ban ar­eas,” ex­plained Bishop.

Those us­ing in res­i­den­tial ar­eas are more at risk be­cause they’re more likely to be us­ing alone, ex­plained Chief Bryan Larkin.

Those us­ing in core down­town ar­eas are more likely to have ac­cess to safety mea­sures like nalox­one or be in groups with in­di­vid­u­als to re­vive them, he said.

“We know that us­ing with an­other per­son, hav­ing nalox­one avail­able and or other safety mea­sures does re­sult in saving lives,” he told re­porters af­ter the board meet­ing.

"I think it’s very im­por­tant. We need to con­tinue to re­in­force that as we move to­ward the ex­plo­ration of po­ten­tial su­per­vised in­jec­tion sites.”

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