Canada is facing a crisis in the wake of rising numbers of fentanyl overdoses and deaths. More than 4000 Canadians died from fentanyl overdoses in 2017 alone, and countless more were affected by the crisis.
The numbers look scary and the crisis can touch anyone’s life. There are many myths and misconceptions about the fentanyl crisis, but there is also hope. Getting the right facts is one of the most important steps towards finding solutions.
What are Opiates?
Fentanyl is an opiate, a type of drug made from the opium poppy. These can include illegal drugs like heroin or medicines like morphine and codeine. Many opiates are important in medical care and are very safe when used properly. Unfortunately, opiates can be very powerful and can have serious consequences if they are abused.
How do Opiates Work?
The brain has receptors that work with endorphins, which the body produces naturally. Opiates work like endorphins on these receptors but are typically much more potent than what the brain produces. Opiates can create a numbing effect and even a sense of euphoria, but can also slow or even stop breathing. The feeling of euphoria and numbing might create habits and addictions. Decreased breathing can be dangerous or even lethal when someone takes too much of these drugs.
Fentanyl and many other opiates are very useful in a medical setting, where they are carefully measured and studied. Illicit use of opiates can be dangerous because the dosage or contents of the drug is often unknown. Opiates are dangerous drugs not only because of their addictive nature but also because of how potent some of them can be.
Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. It is sometimes taken on purpose but is also often mixed with other recreational drugs. Many times, people taking fentanyl have no idea how much they are taking or if they’re even taking any at all, resulting in accidental overdoses.
How has this become a crisis?
For many people, the fentanyl crisis seemed to happen out of nowhere as overdose deaths suddenly appeared on the news. Unfortunately, the current fentanyl crisis is actually an escalation of an existing problem.
Doctors are now realizing that many legal opiate-based medications were over-prescribed. Many Canadians were unnecessarily given prescriptions for potent and highly addictive medications. These prescriptions played a significant role in creating an opiate addiction crisis in Canada. Fentanyl may have hit the news with alarming numbers of overdoses, but it is actually part of a bigger opiate crisis in Canada and many other countries.
Understanding how Canada developed an opiate crisis makes it much easier to understand addictions. It is very important to remember that anyone can be affected by an addiction. This isn’t a problem that only affects some demographics – it is a concern for everyone.
How Canadians are Helping
There are many ways that Canadians are trying to help each other in this crisis. Many legal and medical systems are using harm reduction strategies, which focus on saving lives while opening doors for people to get help. Harm reduction strategies can help prevent overdoses or help avoid transmission of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis.
Anyone in Canada can be a hero by recognizing the signs of an overdose and knowing what to do. An opiate overdose could include symptoms like:
- Decreased or no breathing
- Pale or clammy skin
- Pinpoint pupils
If you witness an overdose, call emergency services at 9-1-1 immediately. You can save someone experiencing an overdose by giving rescue breaths. Naloxone is a drug that can reverse an opiate overdose and can be bought at most pharmacies.
The fentanyl crisis has touched many people. Knowledge is one of our best tools for meeting this challenge. Canadians can support each other with increased compassion and understanding.