Monday, February 22, 2016

Fentanyl becomes the leading cause of opioid deaths in Ontario

Fentanyl has become the leading cause of opioid deaths in Ontario for the first time since Canada’s prescription painkiller crisis began more than a decade ago. Preliminary figures from Ontario’s Office of the Chief Coroner show that fentanyl overdoses accounted for one of every four opioid-related fatalities in 2014.

Medical experts say the scope of the problem is still unknown because the coroners’ figures are more than a year out of date. They worry that Ontario is on track to emulate British Columbia and Alberta, where 2015 figures show an alarming spike in deaths linked to fentanyl, which is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and often mixed with heroin and other illicit street drugs.
The Alberta government announced last week that it is addressing fentanyl’s “devastating impact” by making naloxone – a first-aid drug that reverses the symptoms of an opioid overdose – available free of charge to Albertans with a prescription. Fentanyl overdoses claimed 272 lives in Alberta last year.

In British Columbia, where fentanyl was detected in nearly one-third of all illicit drug overdose deaths last year, medical experts have called for expanded access to naloxone and health-care coverage for it.
Fatal overdoses linked to fentanyl in Ontario climbed 28 per cent to 173 in 2014. Heroin overdoses accounted for 98 deaths, an increase of 63 per cent. In all, 663 people died of opioid overdoses in 2014, including 136 where alcohol was also a factor.

Medical experts said Ontario is ill-equipped to address the opioid crisis, which ranks as a leading cause of accidental deaths in the province. They are calling for pre-emptive measures to manage the outbreak, including wider availability of naloxone.
Fentanyl is approximately 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine and roughly 40 to 50 times more potent than pharmaceutical grade (100% pure) heroin. Fentanyl is used orally, smoked, snorted, or injected. Fentanyl is sometimes sold as heroin.

Heroin dealers mix fentanyl powder with heroin to increase potency or compensate for low quality. Mexico is the source of much of the illicit fentanyl for sale in the U.S while in Canada the drug is being imported from Asia to the West Coast.