In recent years, there has been a rise in rates of fentanyl abuse across Canada and in New Brunswick. Between 2009 and 2014, there were approximately 1,019 deaths in Canada due to usage of the drug. Over half of these deaths occurred between 2013 and 2014.
Locally, more than 32 deaths in New Brunswick have been a result of fentanyl use since 2008. According to their website, the New Brunswick RCMP has been involved in three seizures of counterfeit oxycodone pills since 2015, which, upon analysis, were found to contain fentanyl. With the risk of addiction, professionals and RCMP officers fear that this number will continue to grow.
Fentanyl is a highly potent and addictive drug that is one hundred times stronger than morphine. This drug is generally prescribed by physicians as a painkiller, but is often illegally imported.
The drug can be taken as a powder, liquid, or tablet, among other forms. This makes it easier to mix and lace with other drugs.
Fentanyl can enter the system by inhalation, ingestion or absorption through the skin. Even the smallest amounts can cause damage – just two milligrams (about the same amount as a few grains of salt) can be fatal to a typical adult.
Mount Allison student Mallory Burnside-Holmes grew up in Manotick, O.N., a town similar in size to Sackville. In 2012, fentanyl hit her community hard.
Issues arose when a young adult from the area obtained fentanyl and got high school students to distribute the substance. Students began using the drug in the form of a patch, as it is typically used in hospice homes by terminally ill patients.
More than a dozen students from Burnside-Holmes’s graduating class were using this drug on a regular basis, some to the point of severe addiction.
“They were using it at school by placing the patch on their tongues and [continuing] about their day,” Burnside-Holmes said.
Following interventions from faculty and parents, many students were forced into rehabilitation for the school year. Only some returned near the end of the year for graduation.
Several other students were sent to jail for the criminal behaviour to which they resorted, such as theft, to be able to afford the drug. One student was unable to battle the addiction and died as a result of fentanyl abuse.
“Being in a small town, you could really see the effects of [fentanyl] – everyone was talking about it, even those not linked to the high school at all,” Burnside-Holmes said. “A death in a small town has a lot of ramifications.”
It is important when dealing with fentanyl or any prescription drugs to dispose of them properly if the entire bottle or treatment is not finished. Leaving the medication in your home can increase the risk of the drug finding its way into the wrong hands.
Putting the drug in the garbage carries the risk of others finding it, and flushing it down the toilet is damaging to the environment and marine animals. Returning the remaining medication to the pharmacy is the best way to dispose of the unwanted prescription drug.
The increase in fatalities and the greater general use of fentanyl in recent years means that knowing and taking the proper safety precautions is more important than ever.