Fentanyl overdoses rise, emergency reporting takes effect

B.C. averaging 60 overdose cases a month, half involving fentanyl that users likely don't know they are taking

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake

Drug overdose cases continue at high levels as an emergency order to report them immediately takes effect for hospitals, paramedics, police and firefighters across B.C.

Health Minister Terry Lake said Thursday there were 56 overdose cases reported in April, and the province has seen an average of 60 a month since January. Half of those cases are related to fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid increasingly showing up in street drugs.

“People don’t know they’re taking it, and it’s 100 times more powerful than other opioids,” Lake said. “They think they’re taking oxycontin or something like that, and it’s fentanyl, and there are tragic consequences.”

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall sent out B.C.’s first-ever public health emergency order this week to emergency wards and first responders. Real-time reports of clusters of overdoses are to allow local public warnings and deployment of naloxone, an antidote for opioid overdoses.

Lake said the real-time information has been shown to work.

“In Kamloops a couple of weeks ago, we were lucky enough to be able to collect data from the emergency department, and we had about seven treated overdoses in 24 hours,” he said. “We were able to get that word out quickly, and in that case I think we were able to avoid deaths.”

Fentanyl has been traced to illicit drug labs in China. Considered 100 times more potent than heroin and other opioids, its strength makes it easy to smuggle and to reach dangerous levels when mixed with other drugs.