How Can We Reduce Fentanyl and Opioid Drug Overdoses?

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Reported deaths from opioid drug overdoses have been on the rise across Canada and the United States, due in large part to the increased use of opioids such as Fentanyl, heroin and morphine. Since OxyContin was taken off the market in 2013, users have been turning to Fentanyl and heroin which may also be responsible for the increase in overdoses.  Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid 40 times more potent than heroin, prescribed to treat chronic pain in patients already tolerant to other drugs such as morphine or oxycodone. The drug has been gaining in popularity among opioid addicts recently. The drug is typically used in pill form or as a transdermal patch, intended to release the drug over 72 hours, but the drug is also often brought in from places where there is little regulation, such as China and South America.  According to police, the drug has also been turning up mixed into heroin and fake OxyContin pills, often without the knowledge of users. Problems arise when Fentanyl is mixed into street drugs by people who have no chemistry backgrounds and no understanding of the drug’s toxicity.

Many jurisdictions have begun implementing programs to try to reduce overdoses. Just this week, Nova Scotia announced that it would be introducing take-home naloxone kits by January. Naloxone is a medication that acts as an antidote and can reverse an overdose caused by an opioid drug. Toronto already has several naloxone programs in place. To get naloxone, people must be known users and must complete a program. But some people feel it should be easier to access and available over the counter. In British Columbia, RCMP officers will be equipped with and trained to use Naloxone on a person who has overdosed.

Naloxone addresses a dilemma drug users face when someone overdoses: they fear calling 911 will result in an arrest, and so they do nothing to help the person in distress. Many states in the United States have made naloxone available without a prescription in an attempt to save lives. Another way to decrease the number of fatal overdoses would be to implement Good Samaritan laws to protect people from facing potential drug charges when they call 911 after someone they are with overdoses. The focus should be on saving lives and increasing awareness, not on arresting users who do the right thing by calling 911.

To speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer, please contact Affleck & Barrison online or at 905-404-1947.

Sources:

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/09/21/toronto-overdose-deaths-jump-dramatically.html

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/fentanyl-overdose-kit-nova-scotia-naloxone-1.3259781