Michael Potestio – Merritt Herald
Merritt RCMP believe they have come across their first fentanyl-related drug overdoses in Merritt.
Two people overdosed at the Coldwater Hotel on Tuesday evening, Feb. 23, and police suspect the synthetic opioid fentanyl to have been involved.
RCMP Const. Derrick Francis told the Herald the two individuals were given Naloxone — an antidote to fentanyl — by ambulance workers.
He said they told police they were using crack cocaine, but there is no evidence that is the case.
Francis said the antidote that brought the two around only works on opiates such as fentanyl, heroin and morphine — but not on crack cocaine.
The amount of Naloxone needed to treat the two points to fentanyl as the cause.
Francis said police are confident enough that these were fentanyl overdoses to warrant a public safety risk.
“We want people to be aware that it’s in our community,” Francis said. “We haven’t proven anything yet, but we’d rather be safe than sorry.”
The individuals who were at the Coldwater Hotel were in the same room with others who called for help when the two overdosed.
“Fentanyl overdose tends to be very instant and you’re unresponsive, so you’re just hoping that you have friends around with the wherewithal to call and, yesterday, luckily, there was,” Francis said.
Naloxone is available in take-home kits at various sites around B.C. The closest ones to Merritt are located in Kamloops.
Fentanyl is known to be 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine and has been responsible for many deaths in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island last year.
There have been confirmed cases of fentanyl overdose deaths in Kamloops so far in 2016.
Merritt RCMP staff Sgt. Sheila White said the RCMP are constantly on the lookout for signs of fentanyl in Merritt.
Francis said that the drug is known to show up laced in heroin — a drug he noted as on the rise in Merritt.
“We’ve had other overdoses recently,” Francis said noting police are starting to hear rumours that there have been a few more.
Francis said police don’t respond to every incident of drug overdoses.
“Some of these people are very well versed in the use of heroin, and they’re overdosing, so it’s something new to them, it’s something different, something stronger,” Francis said.
The Canadian Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (CCENDU) released a bulletin last August saying that according to the RCMP, fentanyl is finding its way into the illicit Canadian drug market in two ways.
One is the the diversion of pharmaceutical fentanyl products — primarily fentanyl patches, which are often given to cancer patients to treat chronic pain — from domestic supply and distribution channels.
The other mode is via smuggling fentanyl powder into the country, most notably from China.
Fentanyl powder is either pressed into pills by drug dealers in illicit labs or sold, or mixed with other drugs.
Fentanyl is often misrepresented on the street as the common street level painkiller OxyContin and the pill’s street name is Green 80s for its colour and the number stamped on it.
People with tips regarding fentanyl in Merritt can contact the RCMP at 250-378-4262.