Supervised injection site Insite usually sees six or seven overdoses on “Welfare Wednesdays,” but this week there were 12, along with 14 more on Tuesday.
The unusually high number of overdoses might be related to fentanyl, according to Neil Arao, manager of substance use services at Insite.
“There’s an unknown substance that staff have reported seeing coming around into the Insite facility,” Arao tells Daily Hive. “They do suspect that it’s related to fentanyl.”
50 times more potent than pure heroin
Fentanyl is a powerful opioid that’s 50 times more potent than pure heroin, and 100 times more potent than morphine. Arao thinks his staff will start to see more fentanyl pass through the doors of the site, which helps to prevent overdose deaths and provide a clean safe space for people to use intravenous drugs.
“Thankfully our interventions of using Naloxone have been positive and there have been no deaths related to overdoses.”
Naloxone is a medication used to block the effects of opioids in overdose situations, and is typically injected in emergencies. First responders in Vancouver have started carrying the medication with them to be able to treat overdoses on the spot.
Arao adds that Fentanyl is particularly dangerous because of its high potency.
“I think substances laced with fentanyl have a higher probability of causing overdoses. If you’re not really sure how much fentanyl is in the substance you’re using, it can take a lot less in your injection to be able to overdose with.”
Round the clock support
Wednesday was the launch of a pilot project at Insite that will see the facility staying open for 24 hours on days when people receive their welfare cheques. The project will operate for the next six months.
For his part, Arao believes there’s a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to people with addiction issues.
“I think addiction is often a symptom of something else that’s happening. It could be trauma, it could be other factors, but I believe at the same time that the cycle of addiction is so complex and so compounded – especially in the Downtown Eastside – it’s not so cut and dry as a decision to use or not use.”