The opioid crisis in Canada has resulted in many thousands of deaths over the past decade. Personally, this crisis has affected me from the people I’ve known who have fallen into this dark well of addiction. We all know people in all of our communities across Canada that have either been severely damaged or killed by the use of opioids.
Most of the time these drugs are linked mainly to fentanyl but they have an interesting and tragic history. In December 2016, Grant Robertson and Karen Howlett of the Globe and Mail published a long and detailed article on the history and background of the origins of oxycontin, an opioid medication that went on to cause so much destruction. If you have ever wondered about the origins and effects of this drug, this article is definitely required reading.
Although opioids were created for use as powerful modern pain medications, they are also very addictive and deadly at high doses. The demand for these drugs has meant that those caught in the addiction lie, steal and cheat their way to finding legal prescription drugs. Over the past decade, fentanyl, which is also another powerful opioid is being illegally produced in the black market to be sold to those willing to buy it.
The sad part of the opioid story has to do with pharmaceutical companies like Purdue and how they originally marketed oxycontin. Over the years all of this marketing became a success and gradually the medical community began to prescribe opioids like oxycontin for pain more easily than made sense. People became addicted and many lives were ruined.
According to an article in October 2020 by the National Observer, in Canada there have been over 16,000 deaths from opioids from 2016 to 2020 with over a third occurring in western Canada. In the US about 470,000 have died as a result of opioid use over the past two decades.
The irresponsible marketing and promotion of these drugs has caught up with Purdue and the medical community and recently in the US, several major settlements have been awarded to pay for the damages done. Legal battles are also taking place here in Canada.
In more recent years much of the increase in deaths have to do with fentanyl that came from legal prescriptions and from black market varieties sold on the street. Fentanyl is a potent opioid and just a few grains can be enough to kill a person. The problem is that this drug is easily available and is often mixed in with other drugs. It is 20 to 40 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. This makes the risk of accidental overdose extremely high. It is odourless and tasteless. You may not even know you are taking it. It can be mixed with other drugs such as heroin, cocaine, psychedelics and ‘party’ drugs or made into counterfeit pills that are made to look like prescription opioids.
The signs of a fentanyl overdose could include: person is unresponsive, slow, shallow breathing, gurgling sounds or snoring, cold, clammy or bluish skin and severe sleepiness or loss of consciousness. A person can simply take the drug on a whim at a party and end up dead. Most of the people that die are unsuspecting users who were simply experimenting or ‘looking for a high’.
If you think someone has overdosed on an opioid call 911 immediately for emergency medical assistance and use naloxone which is a drug that can temporarily reverse the effects of the overdose and naloxone wears off in 20 to 90 minutes, so it is important to seek further medical attention and give the person another dose of naloxone if signs and symptoms do not disappear or if they reappear. Naxalone should be readily available in all communities.
First Nations communities across Canada have been dealing with an epidemic of opioid use over the past decade and many deaths have been the result. The insidious side of fentanyl is that only small doses are required which means this drug can be easily transported and delivered to its end users without detection. The ease and access of this powerful and deadly drug has wreaked havoc on remote First Nations.
Communities in Northern Ontario have been hit hard with this crisis and recently people have organized protest walks to push governments into dealing more aggressively with this issue and to inform the public of this danger. Anyone can become a victim of these opioids and it is up to all of us to inform our children, friends and neighbours of the danger lurking right around the corner or at the next party.