WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is investing more than $500,000 and creating a task force to lead a province-wide coordinated response to fentanyl use.
The Manitoba Fentanyl Task Force is launching an awareness campaign to inform the public about the dangers of the drug. It will also share information and safety tips.
Fentanyl is 100 times more powerful than morphone and 40 times stronger than heroin and is killing Manitobans.
“The preliminary number that I have for 2015 is 29 deaths where fentanyl was detected,” said Medical officer of health Joss Reimer.
The Task Force will oversee the distribution of 1,300 naloxone (a fentanyl antidote) kits in Winnipeg and launch a public awareness campaign about the drug. The group will also explore expanding addiction support for opioid drug users and reducing wait times for treatment.
The antidote can be injected much like an EpiPen, a medical device used to inject epinephrine in cases of extreme allergic reaction, Reimer said.
“While fentanyl is comforting to some Manitobans in pain, it is ruthlessly killing others,” said Attorney General Gord Mackintosh . “It is leaving in its wake far too many Canadian families who are suffering in grief and shock.”
Those numbers are double what the province has seen in previous years.
It will be distributing the kits to high-risk opiod users through the WRHA. The program will make kits available for emergency overdoses.
“While our ultimate goal is always to prevent drug use, fentanyl has made it necessary to focus our efforts on first ensuring the reduction of harmful consequences for opiod users,” said Minister Deanne Crothers.
While the Task Force and antidote kits are a start, doctors are warning fentanyl use goes above and beyond the street level drug user, especially since the opioid is used as a painkiller for terminally ill cancer patients.
“A lot of people are getting a hold of family members prescriptions,” said Dr. Ginette Poulin, the medical director at the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba. “Perhaps their grandma has a chronic illness and they are getting a hold of their fentanyl patches.”
Poulin also believes parents need to be vigilant about talking to their children, as teenagers could pose a risk of overdose.
“It is something that I think is very important certainly in the youth populations that are engaging in these types of behaviour of substance use,” said Poulin. “They may not even be aware that the fentanyl could be laced in cocaine or marijuana.”
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