Red tape blocks B.C. health officials' proposals for dealing with fentanyl overdoses

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      Provincial health officials are discussing a variety of interventions that could be deployed in response to a recent surge in overdoses linked to the synthetic opioid fentanyl. However, several of those ideas remain blocked by legal or bureaucratic challenges.

      During an August 11 conference call, Jane Buxton, harm-reduction lead for the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, said one suggestion is to open drug “checking” sites where people could bring illicit narcotics to be analyzed without fear of police persecution.

      “The possibility of testing street drugs, that is something that would be of value,” Buxton said. “Currently, there is no way to do that in the legal framework that we have and there is no test available.” (A test for fentanyl does exist but it requires specialized equipment and a trained technician.)

      On August 5, the Straight reported that the Vancouver Police Department would not oppose such drug-testing.

      Joining Buxton on the call was deputy provincial health officer Bonnie Henry. She said she would like naloxone, a drug used to counter opioid overdoses, made available without a prescription in B.C. That decision has to be made by Health Canada, she noted, and though it is being discussed, it is unlikely to come soon.

      Although ambulances in B.C. are equipped with naloxone kits, police and RCMP officers still respond to calls without them, Henry added. In a subsequent telephone interview, she explained that there is concern about officers carrying needles and the risks those can pose. In the United States, some police departments equip their officers with an intranasal form of naloxone, but that has not been approved in Canada.

      Buxton said she would also like to see an expansion of harm-reduction services in B.C. But again, she noted, there are barriers such as opposition from the federal Conservative government.

      The province fund a group called Toward the Heart, which has produced educational videos about the safe distribution and use of naloxone, a drug that counters the effects of an opioid overdose.

      Buxton maintained the province is advancing these ideas, especially in the case of naloxone. But she conceded that it is “frustrating”.

      According to an August 11 warning issued by the B.C. Coroners’ Service, so far in 2015 it has detected fentanyl in 66 overdose deaths. That’s up from 13 in 2012 and on track to surpass the 90 seen in 2013.

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      Aug 12, 2015 at 11:10am

      It is called the war on drugs for a reason; it even has casualties. People are being subjected to cruel treatment under the guise of public health policy---if you can't buy naloxone (or heroin or whatever you like) without an Rx, you're a slave, pure and simple.

      Imagine the response if ISIS had killed 90 people in 2013, 66 this year to date. We'd be pretty upset, wouldn't we? We'd want something done.

      As for the notion that the federal government has total jurisdiction over drugs, this is not true, the province created the Pharmacy College and the first drug schedules, so it clearly has _some_ jurisdiction over drugs. It also regulates physicians. The crisis here is of such proportions that we should consider using the notwithstanding clause. Federal health policy is killing British Columbians.

      British Columbia could create an act allowing for drug testing services. It could also create a provincial offense of interfering with such testing services, such that any RCMP officer or constable who interfered would be charged.

      Really, tho, we are in a de facto state of war, and there is no law during war. Drug testing services should be set up, and naloxone should be sold in pharmacies without regard for federal drug policy. The depraved indifference to human life displayed by the federal government is pretty much homicidal---genocidal if we concede that drug users are an identifiable group, one that has been targeted for extermination by international law no less.

      Dee Chardain

      Aug 12, 2015 at 11:46am

      Why doesn't law enforcement go after the psycho dealers & trace the source ... and why don't the courts slam them for the mass-murderers that they are??????????

      @Dee Chardain

      Aug 12, 2015 at 3:55pm

      Even if they did, it wouldn't solve the problem. If you punish Dealer A, Dealer B takes Dealer A's place. And even if we put 10x more resources into drug interdiction, presuming there is a linear relationship between resources and interdiction, we could maybe stop 20-50% of the drugs, probably well closer to 20%. Plenty left to cause death and destruction.

      Legalization is the only sound policy when it comes to drugs.


      Aug 15, 2015 at 6:48pm

      Legalization is the policy of cowards and fools. There is no easy way out.