OTTAWA: Nine people died from fentanyl opioid overdoses in the Canadian city of Vancouver in just the past 24 hours, Mayor Gregor Robertson said Friday.
The spike in deaths comes as Canada — like its neighbor the United States — has been struggling to contain an overdose crisis that claimed 2,000 lives last year, with even more expected in 2016.
Flanked by the city’s police chief and other emergency officials, Robertson lauded existing harm reduction services such as drug consumption rooms in the city, but said more treatment options are urgently needed.
“It’s desperate times in Vancouver and it’s hard to see any silver lining right now when we haven’t hit rock bottom,” he said, warning of more overdoses to come.
“Can you imagine nine people dying from another cause in one day in our city?” Police Chief Adam Palmer said, calling for more help for addicts.
The government has poured tens of millions of dollars into bolstering public health emergency responses, with little effect.
Across the border, the United States has also seen a sudden spike in fentanyl-related deaths, including the apparent overdose of the pop star Prince in April.
Vancouver has seen an average of 15 overdoses a month and police are currently investigating 160 fatalities, Palmer said.
The city’s coroner said morgues have reached capacity.
Most of the deaths occurred in the gritty Downtown Eastside neighborhood, where an open drug market and extreme poverty persist despite decades of interventions.
As the crisis snowballed, the city council approved a 0.5 percent property tax hike this week to help stem the number of overdoses.
The funds are to go to support frontline emergency workers, shelters and outreach centers.
Meanwhile, the federal government this week removed hurdles to opening new drug consumption rooms — as demand skyrocketed — and expanded its fight against narcotics trafficking at the border.
Its revamp of drug laws is expected to pave the way for at least nine new drug consumption sites — known in Canada as “supervised injection sites” — across the nation, and more customs searches for fentanyl.
The first North American consumption rooms were established at a clinic in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in 2003 under a special exemption from federal drug possession and trafficking laws.
It remains the only facility on the continent where addicts can receive medical supervision as they inject heroine illegally bought on the street.
Ottawa also recently restricted six chemicals used to make fentanyl and partnered with China to stem its flow into the country from abroad.
Highly potent and addictive, the analgesic fentanyl is estimated to be up to 100 times stronger than morphine. The related drug carfentanil is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl.
Two milligrams of pure fentanyl — the size of about four grains of salt — is enough to kill an average-size adult. AFP