Fentanyl has garnered a notorious reputation for being one of the deadliest drugs on the streets of Vancouver — but is it?
While many British Columbians have died after using fentanyl, many of them did not know they were taking it. And, even if they do take it, they often have no idea how much they are using it.
A new program launched by the Portland Hotel Society (PHS) offers people who use fentanyl access to fentanyl for the price they would pay for it on the street, without accidentally taking high or contaminated doses. Of risks.
The program, called Enhanced Access (EA), debuted in early April. Patients are offered Fentanyl powder in capsules and can open them to smoke or inject the powder.
Other programs in Metro Vancouver offer similar services, where patients receive the drugs they use at the clinic. However, what differentiates EAs from these programs is that patients are able to take the medicine with them at their convenience.
“It’s a way for people to get out of the Downtown Eastside.”
Christy Sutherland, director of the Portland Hotel Society, told Vancouver Is Awesome in a phone interview, the ability to take medication with them is an important step in allowing people who use drugs to lead normal lives.
When the program begins, a nurse observes a patient using a low dose of fentanyl. The dosage is gradually increased over three or four days to establish a person’s tolerance. Once stability is established, patients purchase their fentanyl from a PHS pharmacy at a price equal to the “street” price, removing any financial incentive to sell (diversion).
“What happened in the past [a patient] Will say, ‘Dr. Sutherland, I’ve got a job, I can’t come here every day, all day to take all my supplements. How can I get this medicine otherwise?'”
“There [was] no other choice. Either you come here and witness or you don’t understand.” “It’s a way for people to step out of the Downtown Eastside, go back to work, find housing, back toward sustainability. family.”
When asked about the risk of a patient taking all their doses at once, Sutherland notes that each person has their own specific prescription and pick-up schedule. In other words, a patient may receive a small amount of fentanyl that they will use for a week, but someone who is on a higher dose may need to return daily.
Ultimately, however, the doctor wants to prevent her patients from going on the road to use fentanyl. Not only can supplies go bad, but the process of accessing the substance damages them.
Older drugs like methadone, which doctors have used for decades in BC, are no longer effective treatments for many patients because of fentanyl saturation, she adds.
But how dangerous is using fentanyl?
Sutherland explains that while fentanyl use can be dangerous, other drugs, like alcohol, also carry risks. “When we look at alcohol, it causes cancer, it causes dementia and it causes liver failure. And when we looked at opioids … they cause low testosterone and some Loss of bone mineral density occurs on chronic opioids,” notes the doctor.
Using opioids is “actually less harmful than alcohol, but harm is being done because it’s illegal: that you’re having to share needles, that you’re using dirty water and getting endocarditis.” are, that you have to negotiate with a drug dealer … and women in particular,” Sutherland continues. “You know, I feel so much for the women in my practice that they are susceptible to violence and assault all the time because they are trying to negotiate with this organized crime system to get drugs.”
Sutherland and his team expect the Safe Supply Program to expand in scope in the coming months. But doctors insist that legalizing all drugs would prevent billions of dollars from facilitating organized crime networks.
“I think people should buy fair trade cocaine directly from farmers and cut out the organized crime and violence and the billion-dollar industry of profit that they have locally.”
“We need to set the world in a different way. Using drugs is a normal part of being human and we shouldn’t have this shaming system for people who use drugs.”