There are concerns that benzodiazepine has made its way into the illicit drug supply in Powell River.
A warning from Vancouver Coastal Health has been issued, indicating the drug supply is apparently contaminated with benzodiazepine, or benzo, which is in prescription drugs such as Valium and Xanax.
City councillor Maggie Hathaway, a leader in Powell River’s overdose crisis, said she was talking to Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) medical health officer Geoff McKee, who has indicated that testing of Powell River drug supply has not yet been done, but there are strong suspicions.
“There is no hard evidence that it is in the supply here, but it is in the supply in Vancouver, so logic would say it’s here, because that’s where our supply comes from,” said Hathaway.
A warning from VCH indicated drugs in Powell River were causing blackouts, memory loss and difficulty waking up that may be caused by benzo contamination.
Hathaway said if those with naloxone training come across somebody they think has overdosed, to phone 911 immediately and give the person naloxone anyway because there is likely some opioid involved.
Given the fentanyl and suspected benzos in the Powell River drug supply, the best strategy is not to use alone. Hathaway said Powell River’s overdose prevention site has opened up and it is getting customers, which is good.
“I’m really hopeful that anyone using now and is anticipating using alone – don’t; go to the overdose prevention site,” said Hathaway. “I learned that the staff who are there have all been trained in treating benzos, that they know what to do in that situation. The paramedics are all trained in how to deal with that kind of overdose. Again, if you suspect someone has had an overdose, call 911 first before you do anything. You need medical experts on the way.”
Hathaway said when buying drugs from a street dealer, the product is an unknown commodity regarding its purity so steps need to be taken to reduce harm.
“You’re just playing Russian roulette using alone,” said Hathaway.
“I am cognizant of people’s concerns,” she added, speaking of the injection site, “but I think almost everyone agrees we need it.”
She is hoping to see expanded awareness about drugs in the community. Her hope is that every government vehicle in the community has a naloxone kit with a driver who knows how to use it.
Elected officials in the Powell River region have become educated in naloxone kit use. At the quarterly meeting of Tla’amin, qathet Regional District and City of Powell River elected officials and senior staff on Thursday, July 11, a naloxone training session was held. Hathaway said it went extremely well.
“There was no resistance at all from the elected officials in terms of learning the skill,” she said. “Everyone was happy to do it, they were glad they had done it and felt they had learned something. There were lots of questions. I’ve got my little kit now.”
Training sessions throughout the community will be ongoing and there will also be training available at the new injection site, said Hathaway.
If people want training they can call the hospital and speak to the community outreach team, said Hathaway. People can purchase kits at a drugstore or there are places such as the hospital where they can be procured for free, she added.
A public event is being planned for the community for September. The event will likely be held in the Evergreen Theatre and it’s hoped there will be significant turnout to learn more about the drug situation in the community.