Jac began to have problems with abusing substances when she suffered a back injury and was prescribed OxyContin. Using this opiate helped to mellow her anxiety, something she shared with her doctor. He immediately canceled her prescription causing the mother of three children to seek help with family members.
Eventually, she moved to the streets to fill her opiate addiction. Three years ago she contracted necrotizing fasciitis while injecting heroin and fentanyl, and died shortly thereafter. Donna May, Jac’s mother, shares this story everywhere she goes. She is a member of mumsDU, a traveling group of parents who provide information about substance abuse issues and fentanyl in particular.
One of the main goals of mumsDU is to convince the Canadian health agency to open access to naloxone. Naloxone is a powerful drug that can halt an overdose immediately and save lives. Currently, the only people who can access naloxone in Canada are those with current opiate prescriptions. This group states that the lack of access to this life-saving drug is killing their communities.
This campaign has been steadily gaining strength as the amount of overdose deaths grows. In December of 2015 along, eight people in Victoria fatally overdosed on a mix of fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine. These numbers have been growing every year in many cities and provinces across Canada. The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse reported that within a five year period there were over 650 deaths that were caused by fentanyl. In addition, there were over one thousand poison-related deaths where fentanyl was found in the person's system.
Fentanyl itself if between fifty and one hundred times more toxic than morphine, but is far cheaper. It is hard to detect in a drug test and can be consumed in multiple forms. These features have made fentanyl popular among dealers, who have taken to hiding it in heroin, cocaine, MDMA, and marijuana. While fentanyl is most popular on the streets, its intended use is as a painkiller in hospitals.
Certain areas have been hit harder than most. Alberta, which is along Asian smuggling routes, reported more than two hundred people dying in 2015. While officials have been calling this a public health crisis, many are claiming that the government has been too slow to react to this problem.
Health Canada has reported that it is working hard to support provinces, territories, and local law enforcement in their response to this issue. That includes reviewing the status of naloxone, which started in summer of 2015 and is expected to make a decision early this year. Health Canada has also stated that they are concerned about the growing amount of fentanyl deaths, which is why they are reviewing their policies regarding this lifesaving drug.
“Not only is this the very first time that Health Canada has initiated a review such as this, they have also put it on a vastly accelerated timeline,” a spokesperson stated in a release made to VICE News. However, the amount of time the review will take is not the main issue for advocates. They are concerned that they government has not begun to utilize an accurate way to count overdose deaths.
Different areas in Canada have been using different methods for counting overdose deaths. For instance, Alberta is reporting on all overdoses opiate deaths while BC is only reporting deaths that happened in illicit circumstances. Even with skewed data coming in, a recent study showed that Canada and the US have the highest level of prescription opioid consumption across the entire world. And experts are expecting that use to increase.
However, unlike Canada, the US prescribes naloxone to its citizens. There are currently forty-four different states with some sort of naloxone access law in place. Some states prescribe it to known opiate addicts, others dispense it without a prescription, and some have first responders carrying it. These methods have saved countless lives.
“Just like I have a medicine cabinet with aspirin and bandages, I want to have a naloxone kit,” stated Debbie May. “I want to be able to save the lives of people who are overdosing.”