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Opioid mixtures make toxic drug supply even more dangerous in the Interior

February 25, 2021 - 6:30 AM

The opioid supply on the streets is getting more and more dangerous, but desperation often outweighs the risks for many users.

"I've been warned before that some dealers' stuff is dangerous - it's mixed with benzos or something," said Josh Peletier, a former user, now in Kelowna. "At the time I thought... 'I know what I'm doing.'"

The reality for users who have to rely on the illicit drug market is that they must risk their lives. It's also the reason why the Canadian Mental Health Association has decided to change terminology from the overdose epidemic to the 'poisoning epidemic'.

Dealers and manufacturers have been increasingly mixing benzodiazepines, along with other ingredients, into synthetic fentanyl. But it also complicates the situation for users and can be even more dangerous for users. Why would they make an even more dangerous, toxic supply that could potentially killer their customers? Peletier says it's a mix of marketing and incompetence.

"They can market their supply as stronger - it'll get you 'on the nod'," Peletier says. "It's so hard to find 'pure' anymore. There's always benzos or something else mixed in. There's so many people involved in the trade that they either don't have the right ingredients to cut or they aren't doing it properly in a lab anymore."

READ MORE: Kamloops council to consider motion urging feds to decriminalize illicit drugs

This risk was one he was once willing to take, but not anymore. Now he's using a slow-release hydromorphone prescribed by his pharmacist. He says it keeps the withdrawal away so he can live his life the way he wants now. But many aren't as lucky to get those prescriptions and they resort to risking street-level supply. 

"One of the big problems with benzodiazepines is that they don't react with Naloxone," said Kile McKenna, a drug technician with ASK Wellness in Kamloops. "Opioids are painkillers. So when benzodiazepines are in the mix, a form of tranquilizer, it can have significant effects."

He said the effects of the benzos take longer to come on. So when a user might have taken a second dose already, the effects of the tranquilizer are just kicking in and the result can be dangerous.

"I've heard reports of people taking what they thought was fentanyl and they wake up 14 hours later. That's not normal," he said. "For someone looking for opioids, benzos just aren't good. Another reason is that's not the drug they're addicted to. So a person can end up with a new physical addiction to another substance without realizing it. It's a scratch that the opioids just can't itch."

This year started with dangerous warning signs for users. Interior Health issued drug alerts from Penticton, up through Vernon to Kamloops.

READ MORE: Kelowna, Kamloops see record breaking number of illicit drug overdose deaths

Eight alerts were announced from Jan 8 to 13, and the majority in Kamloops.

While overdose deaths in the province decreased in 2019, it went right back up in 2020 to new records trends, according to a B.C. Coroners report. It also showed that the vast majority of overdoses occur in private residences, likely without supervision or Naloxone nearby.

The pandemic rendered public supports increasingly difficult to reach for drug users and homeless populations, in accordance with public health measures.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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