August 13, 2015 - 9:00 PM
THOMPSON-OKANAGAN – Fentanyl is being mixed with marijuana here in the Southern Interior, leading the Kamloops ASK Wellness Society to be even more concerned about the rise of deaths related to the synthetic opiate drug.
Fentanyl is typically added to OxyContin or heroin, but adding it to marijuana ups the drug’s danger factor, according to ASK Wellness outreach worker Ken Salter.
Salter says the society first heard of fentanyl in town two years ago and then about a year ago they heard rumours of it being added to marijuana.
He was convinced the rumours were true after two people he describes as 'hard core users' nearly overdosed after smoking laced joints. One man was rushed to hospital, the other woke up hours later on his kitchen floor. He emphasizes both men were not strangers to opiate drugs but were greatly affected by what he believes was fentanyl.
Salter admits he cannot say with certainty what the marijuana was laced with. He has brought his concerns to RCMP.
“This is way more dangerous: 16- and 17-year-old kids are probably not able to handle (fentanyl),” Salter says, adding the prevalence of teenage pot smoking makes the matter even more worrisome.
Salter believes powdered fentanyl mixed with water is being sprayed on marijuana either because it is “has been laying around for a while” and has low THC levels — the fentanyl gives the weaker marijuana an extra kick — or to grow an existing client base. Fentanyl is used to hook people, usually unknowingly, onto a more powerful drug.
“Heroin users have told me they enjoy it,” Salter says of the fentanyl laced joints, noting these are 'opiate experienced' individuals.
Dr. Ian Mitchell, an emergency room doctor at Royal Inland Hospital, says there is no toxicological evidence to support that fentanyl has been sprayed on marijuana in town.
"We have people smoking stuff saying this feels different. We don’t really have confirmation that we have a death associated with marijuana and fentanyl," he says.
As a consultant with ReaLeaf Wellness, a medical marijuana dispensary, Mitchell can’t understand why the two drugs would be combined together. If users often die, he says it’s “not really a customer retention strategy."
Between January 1 to May 31, 54 drug overdose deaths were attributed to fentanyl, according to the B.C. Coroners Service, including at least 12 deaths in the last month alone. Almost all of these recent deaths occurred in the Lower Mainland.
The service warns it is not possible to be sure of the contents of any illicit drugs.
According to healthcare providers, fentanyl is a synthetic opiate first used in hospitals to treat extreme pain. It is often used in palliative care and applied as a transdermal patch. One patch can give a patient 72 hours of strong pain relief.
Fentanyl is lethal even in very small amounts. Morphine starts working in milligram doses, where fentanyl is potent by the microgram.
Fentanyl in its illegal street form.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT)
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015