Public warned of possible presence of powerful opioid carfentanil in Vernon - InfoNews

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Public warned of possible presence of powerful opioid carfentanil in Vernon

March 16, 2018 - 2:12 PM

VERNON - Drug users are being warned about the possible presence of the potent opioid carfentanil in Vernon.

Co-executive director of the North Okanagan John Howard Society Randene Wejr says they’ve been hearing reports of the drug, which is 100 times more toxic than fentanyl, since roughly two weeks ago.

“We work with a lot of people in the community and that is what we’re hearing: carfentanil is in town,” Wejr says.

The reports overlap with two recent, suspected (though not confirmed) over dose deaths in Vernon, however Wejr says they don’t know if the cases are linked.

“We wanted to warn clients and residents this (carfentanil) is a possibility but, again, we do not know for sure. There’s no testing,” she says.

Interior Health says in a written statement it is aware of an alert from a community agency in Vernon advising of the possibility of carfentanil in the community.

“While we’re not able to confirm if carfentanil is circulating in Vernon, we do know there is carfentanil in the illicit drug market in Interior Health and B.C.”

The B.C. Coroners Service has been detecting a higher number of cases involving carfentanil across the province since last year, and Interior Health issued a specific warning last March after Health Canada confirmed through lab testing that it was present in the Kootenay and Thompson Cariboo Shuswap regions.

B.C. Coroners Service spokesperson Andy Watson says his office has not heard about a significant increase in carfentanil cases in the Interior in the last two weeks and couldn’t comment on the recent deaths in Vernon.

“We would not comment on any cases open for investigation or suspected cause of death but would work with health authority if we saw a spike or trend of concern to issue public safety information,” Watson says.

Carfentanil has not been reported in Vernon specifically until now, and word of its presence in the community is a concern for the John Howard Society.

“I think one of the things that’s really crucial is knowing there is the possibility of carfentanil, and knowing where you’re getting your drugs from,” Wejr says.

The society has been recording a steady increase in the number of overdose incidents in its facilities since 2016 and is exploring the idea of a supervised consumption area in its shelters.

“Having a space where people can use safely, not be judged and not have to hide down by the creek and potentially overdose and pass away,” she says.

She says the idea is being considered in consultation with B.C. Housing and Interior Health.

Unlike Kamloops and Kelowna, Vernon currently has no supervised drug consumption site.

There were at least 17 illicit drug overdose deaths in Vernon last year, according to data from the B.C. Coroners Service.

People who are considering using drugs experimentally or for recreational purposes are advised to avoid the use of illicit drugs, Interior Health says.

Anyone using illicit drugs is advised to take steps to reduce the risk:   

  • Don’t mix different drugs (including pharmaceutical medications, street drugs, and alcohol).
  • Don’t take drugs when you are alone. Use in the company of someone who can administer help or call 9-1-1 if you experience an overdose.
  • Keep an eye out for your friends – stay together and look out for each other.
  • Use less and pace yourself. Do testers to check strength – take a small sample of a drug before taking your usual dosage.
  • Carry a naloxone kit and know how to use it. A list of locations to get a kit can be found on the Interior Health website.  
  • Recognize the signs of an overdose: slow or no breathing, gurgling or gasping, lips/fingertips turning blue, difficult to awaken, or non-responsive.
  • If someone is experiencing an overdose or is witnessing an overdose, follow the SAVE ME steps and call 9-1-1 immediately.
  • Consider treatment options – talk with your healthcare provider or contact one of our Mental Health and Substance Use offices in Interior Health, which offer a full range of services to improve the health and well-being of people with substance use problems.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 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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