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HIV North warns of “bad batch” of drugs

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HIV North is warning of a potential “bad batch” of drugs that seems to be circulating around Grande Prairie. Executive Director Melissa Buyers says they know of 20 opioid poisonings this past week.

“Clients came to us asking for naloxone kits because they had to use their kits in a reversal, which means that somebody had gone down from an opioid poisoning and then a naloxone kit was used to revive them. So, we’ve had 20 individuals come to us and say that they had personally experienced an overdose or one of their friends had experienced an overdose.”

Buyers says the request for the kits have been so common this past week the staff at HIV North is out with tips for users. That includes not using alone, always keeping a naloxone kit on hand and using smaller amounts than usual.

Buyers adds that right now people can’t be sure of what they are purchasing. She believes carfentanil or fentanyl is what is being mixed in with other drugs.

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“Carfentanil is relatively new on the streets, new-ish, like within the last year. It’s literally a grain of salt that can put somebody into an overdose state. A grain of sand can be mixed in to a tiny pill and that can be enough to put somebody in to an overdose. Fentanyl is a little bit more, like maybe we’ll say 50 grains of sand. So it’s really, really miniscule amounts that can put somebody in to an overdose state and cause an opioid poisoning.”

When it comes to calling it a “poisoning” instead of an “overdose”, Buyers says they are working to change the language around the situation.

“What we’re doing kind of as a province as a strategy to work with the drug crisis that’s happening is switching our language so it’s less stigmatizing. So, poisoning instead of overdose… overdose kind of implies that the person using drugs is at fault where a poisoning is more unintentional.”

They also say they have distributed 100 naloxone kits. The kits are available free of charge from HIV North or pharmacies around town. Emergency responders are also armed with the drug should they respond to the scene of an opioid poisoning.

Data released from the province Monday shows that in 2017, there have been 482 overdose deaths related to an opioid. At this point last year, there were 346. Between January and September of this year 18 people have died from a fentanyl overdose in Grande Prairie with another three people succumbing to some other form of opioid poisoning.

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