PENTICTON – Social media has erupted this week after someone posted a photo from a local doctor’s office warning the public that local residents have overdosed by inadvertently smoking fentanyl-laced marijuana.
It's a claim heard many times, but so far it remains entirely unconfirmed.
The warning is attached to the front door of a medical clinic at 465 Ellis Street in Penticton. It may have gone up as early as December but a recent photo of the letter published to Facebook has been shared more than 2,000 times in the last 18 hours.
"Fentanyl is being put into everything, including marijuana joints in Penticton," the sign reads. "Penticton Regional Hospital ER has had opiate overdose patients in the last week who have only smoked a joint and they have become unconscious and stopped breathing."
Doctors at the clinic did not make themselves available to provide the source of the anecdote, the incomplete information or the clear errors. A receptionist at the clinic says they first put the warning up in December but it is not clear why.
Interior Health chief medical health Officer Dr. Trevor Corneil says they are not aware of any evidence to date supporting the presence of fentanyl in marijuana.
"There is a post circulating on social media of a sign claiming fentanyl has been found in marijuana in Penticton," he says in an emailed statement. "This sign was not posted at an Interior Health site, nor was it issued by IH. Testing for the presence of specific drugs like fentanyl is done by the B.C. Coroners office following an overdose death and by RCMP/police following drug seizures."
Unregulated street use of the pharmaceutical fentanyl, 25 to 50 times more potent than heroin and 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, is responsible for thousands of overdoses and deaths in the last few years, prompting B.C. to declare a state of emergency.
Rumours of fentanyl-spiked pot started early in the public health crisis as a 'warning' but never proven. In the summer of 2015 a Kamloops outreach worker said two people he described as “hard core users” nearly overdosed and claimed that they only drugs they intended to consume was marijuana. But their marijuana was never tested and despite repeated attempts, they couldn't be found for interviews.
An emergency room doctor at Royal Inland Hospital said in the story there is no evidence to support that fentanyl was added to marijuana in Kamloops.
Despite repeated warnings from various members of the public, it remains unclear if anyone has ever tested marijuana and found fentanyl. Some law enforcement sources quoted in a June 2017 Vice article suggest that it might not even be possible to ‘smoke’ fentanyl.
"It is important to stress that the use of any illegal drug carries risk," Corneil says. "Anyone using illegal drugs is advised to either avoid using, if possible, or take precautions to prevent overdose."
To catch up on the fentanyl crisis in the Interior, go here.
— This story was updated at 3:13 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15, 2017 to add a comment from the medical health officer.
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