Dangerous new opioid mixtures surface, prompting safer supply

“We need to stop criminalizing it and instead give people the support they need.”

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Dangerous mixtures of fentanyl and other drugs are once again surfacing the streets of London, just as federal New Democrats launch an effort to tackle the opioid crisis by making the drug supply safer.

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Regional HIV/AIDs Connection issued an advisory Feb. 2 about fentanyl combined with the benzodiazepine, a depressant, which can make a person vulnerable to other risks during use and cause seizures during withdrawal.

“The offer changes so quickly. You just don’t know what you’re getting,” Sonja Burke, the organization’s director of harm reduction, said Friday.

There are also signs that the public supply of fentanyl is once again being mixed with carfentanil, a much more potent opioid, the city’s director of safe supply said Friday.

“The danger with street supplies, as I say over and over again, is that it is unpredictable,” said Dr Andrea Sereda of London InterCommunity Health Centre’s Safer Opioid Supply (SOS) programme.

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The push for the safe supply and use of drugs has recently been spurred by federal New Democrats, who last week introduced a bill calling for decriminalizing small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use and expanding access harm reduction, treatment and recovery services.

“We have seen the growing impact of the opioid crisis and people dying because of this poisoned drug supply,” Lindsay Mathyssen, New Democrat MP for London-Fanshawe, said on Friday.

“We need to take a health care approach. We need to stop criminalizing it and instead give people the support they need. It’s been long overdue.

In addition to saving lives, the legislation would help save money by diverting people from the interactions with police, hospitals and courts that accompany illicit drug use and are more costly for taxpayers, Mathyssen said. .

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Like the rest of Canada, London is experiencing an entrenched opioid crisis that has claimed the lives of an estimated 20,000 people across the country over the past five years. The crisis was fueled by fentanyl, an opioid or painkiller 20 to 40 times more potent than heroin.

Benzodiazepines, called benzos, are a class of depressant drugs that include lorazepam and clonazempam, and are used to treat anxiety disorders.

The presence of this drug in fentanyl can put people into a sleepy state for hours, making them vulnerable to assault, sexual assault, robbery and hypothermia, Sereda and Burke said.

“When people withdraw from benzos, one of the possible complications is the withdrawal crisis,” Sereda said. “We are seeing more and more crises emerging.”

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There are also recent signs that carfentanil is becoming prevalent in the fentanyl supply, she said.

Carfentanil, a drug used to anesthetize large animals, is said to be 100 times more potent than fentanyl.

“You take people who are dependent on a certain potency of fentanyl. And then they suddenly get a much stronger dose in the same amount they’re used to using. Because it’s more potent, they’re much more likely to overdose,” Sereda said.

People can get a higher tolerance to fentanyl combined with carfentanil, but that comes with its own set of issues, Sereda said.

“When carfentanil goes out of supply, people have to use more of the weaker fentanyl that is now available because their tolerance has been increased.”

The SOS program provides safe, pharmaceutical-grade opioids to more than 200 people, with a recent study showing improved health and reduced risk of crime and overdoses for clients.

Burke runs a safe drinking program that provides clean equipment and medical assistance, if needed, to people using their own drug supply.

Both say Canada should decriminalize small amounts of drugs for personal use to keep people safe.

“Decriminalization and safe supply will change the world for people,” Burke said.

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