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Vancouver Overdose Prevention Society blames new drug for 16 overdoses in 2 days

Vancouver marks grim overdose anniversary
WATCH: (Aired April 14) Sunday marked the third anniversary of B.C. declaring a public health emergency because of the overdose crisis. As Kristen Robinson reports, the city was flying flags at half-mast to mark the occasion.

Vancouver’s Overdose Prevention Society says there were 16 overdoses in the city over two days last week.

Director Sarah Blyth says she’s noticed a recent spike in overdoses ever since benzodiazepines, a type of psychoactive drug also known as “benzos,” came on the Vancouver scene.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed by doctors as an anti-anxiety medication. However, Blyth warns they are being used recreationally.

READ MORE: More doctors are prescribing opioids to prevent their patients from dying of overdoses

“About a month ago, people really started noticing it,” Blyth said. “People would overdose and then you’d give them naloxone, which is what helps them come back, but it would still be like they’re under because the benzos aren’t helped with naloxone.”

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Blyth says benzos are usually cut with other drugs so people don’t realize they’re taking them.

“It’s another level of this crisis and it’s really awful; it’s a completely different drug,” she added. “You lose your memory for days.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, benzodiazepines work to calm or sedate a person by raising the level of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA in the brain.

READ MORE: Calls ramp up for decriminalized hard drugs as B.C. breaks overdose death annual record

The institute says combining opioids and benzodiazepines can be unsafe because both types of drugs sedate users and suppress breathing in addition to impairing cognitive function.

Blyth says that in her experience, naloxone doesn’t help someone coming out of an overdose if they have taken benzodiazepines.

She says it’s just another reminder that if people are going to use, they should never use alone.