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Fentanyl Crisis: Combating Opioid Abuse in Canada

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at McGill chapter.

Fentanyl abuse in Canada is currently among the biggest health issues in the country. Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is infamous for opioid abuse; this past December, British Columbia averaged four deaths per day relating to overdoses (Maclean’s). Safe injection sites are overwhelmed and overdoses peak after ‘Cheque Day’, a term referring to the day welfare payments are collected and presumably spent on purchasing narcotics (Globe and Mail). Toronto Public Health is concerned that a similar overdose epidemic could overtake Ontario following recent seizures of fentanyl into the province (The Star).

Whether you have a friend or know of someone who has overdosed, or are simply concerned about $93 million in tax dollars used to treat opioid addiction in 2014, Canada’s growing fentanyl addiction has had a significant impact on public health (Globe and Mail).

Fentanyl comes in many forms: patches, pills, powder and liquid among others. Moreover, fentanyl is 50 to 80 times more deadly than morphine and just a small dose can have fatal consequences (U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse). Fentanyl was originally prescribed to treat patients suffering from cancer or chronic pain.

However, when pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma produced and marketed OxyContin, a highly addictive opioid pain medication used to treat acute pain, it opened the floodgates to access opioids through the guise of prescription medicine (Globe and Mail). Many patients who were initially prescribed OxyContin became addicted, despite Purdue’s heavy marketing efforts to convince the public otherwise. Since then, fake OxyContin pills have found their way into the streets, while others have turned to heroin as a cheaper alternative to satisfy their addictions. According to a Globe and Mail investigation, large volumes of unlicensed fentanyl are even custom made and frequently smuggled from China into Canada.

(Above: Insite, a supervised injection site in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver)

Having faced fentanyl issues over many years, Vancouver opened Insite in 2003, a supervised injection site funded by the province to reduce overdose deaths. There, clients can bring and inject illegal drugs using the disinfected supplies provided. Clients also have the option of participating in addiction treatment or the detox facility in the building. In light of recent trends, Vancouver is also considering opening five additional supervised injection sites (CBC).

Toronto has recently followed suit, as the province has agreed to fund supervised injection sites to keep opioid use from spiraling out of control (The Star). Ontario also provides Naxalone, an anti-opioid drug that can help facilitate breathing and consciousness following an overdose, free of charge to those at risk (CBC).

With these projects in place to contain the fentanyl crisis, we may next look to crack down on the flow of opioid prescriptions. While these drugs are indeed useful for those with chronic and severe pain, a concerted effort to restrict the frequency or volume of these prescriptions may prove beneficial.

Each step our country takes to combat this crisis is a step towards saving lives, and that is an aim well worth striving towards.


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