03/02/2015 03:41 EST | Updated 05/02/2015 05:59 EDT

Vancouver Fentanyl Deaths Prompt Police To Launch New Campaign

Vancouver Police
VANCOUVER - Vancouver police and British Columbia health agencies launched a campaign Monday to warn drug users about fentanyl, a powerful painkiller they say is being mixed in with street drugs and is fuelling an increase in overdose deaths.

They also said most of those deaths involve recreational users rather than injection-drug addicts.

Fentanyl is a synthetic narcotic that is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Dealers are mixing it with heroin and other street drugs, but users can't detect it, police said.

Dr. Mark Lysyshyn of the B.C. Coroners Service said fentanyl was detected in about a quarter of 330 illicit drug overdose deaths in 2014, compared with five per cent of the overdose deaths in 2012.

While much of the media coverage about fentanyl has focused on injection heroin, but Lysyshyn said its impact is far broader.

"The majority of people dying from using fentanyl are not using injection drugs," said Lysyshyn.

"They are mostly recreational drug users who are snorting or smoking."

The campaign uses posters and Facebook advertising with the message: "Know Your Source? Be Drug Smart."

"People are taking a drug that they're not expecting to take that they have no tolerance to, and they're experiencing bad outcomes," said Lysyshyn.

People should know the symptoms of fentanyl overdose to prevent a death, he said. Those include difficulty talking or walking, sudden drowsiness, difficulty breathing and losing consciousness.

"It's basically a respiratory depressant, and that's how it kills people."

Police in the Vancouver area have issued several warnings in the past year about the dangers of fentanyl. Most recently, police raised the alarm in late December following an armed robbery at a pharmacy.

Last month, police in Vernon, BC., and Saskatoon linked fentanyl to overdose deaths in both cities

Const. Sandra Glendinning said Vancouver police are finding fentanyl in almost every type of street drug.

"Heroin, marijuana, cocaine, oxycodone. It's coming in pill form, so what somebody might think is oxycodone or ecstasy might in fact be fentanyl," said Glendinning.


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