It was just last week that Hardy and Amelia Leighton, parents of a two-year-old boy, inhaled a street drug laced with fentanyl in North Vancouver and died. The couple were seemingly normal; they welcomed baby Magnus in February 2013 and had just moved into a new rental house in North Vancouver with a yard for Magnus to play in.
Their Facebook timelines show the couple attended Canucks games, ate at Italian Kitchen and traveled to Hawaii. These parents weren’t injecting heroin, living on the Downtown Eastside.
But one wrong decision to celebrate their new home by taking street drugs unknowingly laced with fentanyl has left their son an orphan.
The drug has been the culprit in over 25 per cent of overdose deaths in British Columbia in the last three years, according to the B.C. Coroners Service. It’s 50 to 100 times more toxic than morphine, and when cut with other drugs, as it so often is, can become extremely lethal.
Vancouver Coastal Health lists cocaine, marijuana, oxycodone, ecstasy and heroin as some of the drugs often cut with fentanyl in pill, powder or liquid form. “You can’t see it, smell it or taste it, but if your drug of choice is cut with fentanyl, it can kill you,” Coastal Health warns.
Drug ‘manufacturers’ aren’t adding fentanyl to kill their customers, but they are using it as a way to create a cheaper high and increase addiction. The results have caused fentanyl to contribute to over 54 drug overdoses so far this year in B.C.
Coquitlam is one municipality where fentanyl use has become a concern. Recent lab tests show the drug laced into several samples of ecstacy, heroin and oxycodone.
“Of course we warn against the purchase and use of any street drugs but the presence of fentanyl on the local scene is cause for particular concern,” said Corporal Jamie Chung of Coquitlam RCMP. “When it comes to street drugs there is no way to know what you are getting. There is also no such thing as a safe place or a ‘trusted’ person from whom to purchase illegal drugs. But thanks to lab test results our drugs and organized crime team now knows for certain there is fentanyl being sold in our area.”
The largest number of deaths seem to be occurring in suburban areas, according to the Know Your Source campaign. Vancouver, Nanaimo, Surrey, Maple Ridge, Prince George, Langley and Fort St. John are the leading areas in B.C. for fentanyl-related deaths. In total, one quarter of the 300 overdose deaths in B.C. in 2014 included fentanyl, up from only five per cent in 2012.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate typically used to treat severe pain. When used recreationally, the high can be similar to heroin but with deeper respiratory depression and stronger sedative effects, making it extremely dangerous. Those without a tolerance for opiates, unlike addicts, will experience stronger and more lethal effects.
Street names used for fentanyl include Apache, China girl, China white, dance fever, friend, goodfella, jackpot, murder 8, TNT, as well as Tango and Cash.
Users who knowingly or unknowingly take fentanyl may experience severe sleepiness, a slow heartbeat, trouble breather, slow or shallow breathing, cold and clammy skin and trouble walking and talking, according to Coastal Health.
While it’s impossible to know if the drug you just purchased includes fentanyl, Vancouver Police suggest a few precautions to limit danger:
- Never use alone
- Start with a small amount
- Do not mix substances, including alcohol, as it increases risk of overdose
- Make a plan and know how to respond in case of an overdose
- Use where help is easily available
- Be prepared to give breaths and/or administer naloxone (Narcan) until help arrives
If any drug overdose is ever suspected, call 911 immediately.
Meanwhile, a breakthrough in the investigation into where fentanyl in Vancouver is coming from will be heard Friday when Walter James McCormick and Karen Marie Armitstead, two accused kingpins in the Vancouver fentanyl trade, are arraigned in court.
According to CBC, McCormick and Armitstead face multiple counts in relation to a police sting called Project Tainted. The Supreme Court is currently attempting civil forfeiture to seize their $818,000 North Vancouver home, a 3.4-acre property on Gambier Island and another property in the Okanagan.
The civil claim against McCormick states he is a “high-level drug trafficker” with access to a “large sophisticated drug trafficking network.” He faces 22 counts including fentanyl trafficking. Armistead, his common-law wife, faces 12 counts.