Heroin laced with fentanyl hitting the streets of Saskatoon
It’s become the new norm in Saskatoon, emergency crews armed with Narcan in order to reverse an opioid overdose when they arrive on-scene.
Only lately, first responders have been seeing cases where patients are overdosing on heroin not knowing something else has been mixed in.
“A lot of the times, people don’t know exactly what they’re taking because, again, you’re dealing with drug dealers,” Medavie Health Services West spokesperson Troy Davies said.
Heroin, which is a semi-synthetic, highly addictive opioid, has sparked a crisis in the United States. In 2016, nearly one million Americans admitted to using heroin and deaths related to the drug have tripled nationwide since 2010.
“Since the beginning of this year, the Saskatoon Police Service has laid nine charges regarding heroin,” Saskatoon police Supt. Dave Haye said.
“Comparatively speaking that’s not a lot, but we are seeing a resurgence of it. In my experience, back in my day with the drug unit, we never saw heroin.”
Authorities said they’re seeing the drug on the streets more and more. It’s also contributing to the weekly opioid overdose calls local paramedics are having to respond to.
“It is something that is hitting the streets of Saskatoon,” Davies said.
“Unfortunately, we’re now in the major city stage and we’re starting to see things come down from Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton.”
Without question, heroin is potent but what’s making the drug even more dangerous is it’s being laced with an even deadlier drug.
“I’m seeing more and more people coming in that are snorting or smoking what they describe as heroin,” said Dr. Peter Butt, an opioid specialist with the Saskatchewan Health Authority.
“But in the urine drug screens, it comes out not as heroin but fentanyl or norfentanyl.”
The drug is 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. A dose of fentanyl the size of a grain of salt can be enough to kill.
“We’re getting on-scene and we have patients going into respiratory arrest because it acts so quickly,” Davies added.
Since 2013, there have been 78 fentanyl-related deaths in the province including 11 so far this year.
“Fentanyl is killing our young people and that is a tragedy,” Haye added.
As for how long this city will continue to see cases of heroin tainted with fentanyl remains unclear.
Experts said heroin is considered an expensive street drug in Saskatoon and it’s usually all consumed in the United States by drug users where there is high levels of heroin abuse before it can even make its way here.
“Sometimes it comes through Mexico, north across to the American border,” Butt explained.
“So if the American market is going to absorb it than it’s easier than to distribute it throughout the United States rather than crossing yet another international border into Canada.”
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