Calgary police warn of fentanyl public health crisis
Published Wednesday, September 30, 2015 8:21AM EDT
Calgary police are warning that they're dealing with a public health crisis after two people died over the past two weeks and 14 others ended up in hospital as a result of using the street drug fentanyl.
Sharing some startling statistics at a meeting on Tuesday night, police said that, from January to June of this year, 45 people in Calgary died from fentanyl use, and they believe the rate of fentanyl-related deaths and overdoses is not slowing down.
The drug is typically prescribed as a pain killer to patients in hospital. However, police say illicit and more potent versions of the drug are being made in illegal labs and sold to users on the streets.
Kyle Drewniak, 29, was one of those users.
He first started using the drug about 18 months ago, while working out of town. At first, he said he didn't even like the feeling he got from taking it.
"At first, I didn't like it; I'd get sick," he told CTV Calgary. "I kind of just did it because it was always around.
"Eventually, I got over the sickness of it, and that's when it started to become enjoyable."
He soon became hooked, taking between eight and 10 fentanyl pills a day.
"It turned from a ‘like’ into a ‘need.’ Once my body would start to withdraw off of it, I wouldn't be able to sleep," he said. "For me, it was everywhere … my closest friends were drug dealers."
Calgary police recognize that the crisis is not something they'll be able to arrest their way out of. They'll be focusing their efforts on educating the public about the dangers of using fentanyl.
"Fentanyl kills. Fentanyl could be hiding in any drug you're taking," Staff Sgt. Martin Schiavetta said. "The dangerous thing about fentanyl, because it's not made in a pharmaceutical lab, you could take one tablet today, the next tablet tomorrow will kill you."
This past summer, Alberta Health Services expanded a program to combat fentanyl-related deaths. They made kits containing naloxone – a drug that decreases the effects of fentanyl -- more readily available. From July to mid-September they handed out about 140 of the kits, and say four lives were saved as a result.
Stacey Peterson, executive director at local addiction treatment facility Fresh Start Recovery Centre, said the fentanyl crisis has resulted in a greater demand for spaces at his centre.
There were 145 deaths in the city last year related to fentanyl. Of those who died, at least six had attended Fresh Start, and at least six others died while on the waiting list for the program, he said.
Drewniak, who has now been in treatment for approximately six weeks, considers himself lucky to have been given another chance at living a healthy life.
Looking back, he almost can't believe how fast his life came undone. "I was a boyfriend, a father, an employee, and I lost all of that really quick," he said. "By the end of it, I was rotting away."
With a report from CTV Calgary’s Ina Sidhu