Opioid addicted say they knowingly chase fentanyl's deadly high

Seeking fentanyl's high

New research from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control that suggests people are knowingly using fentanyl in B.C. is not surprising news for the president of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users.

Lorna Bird, who is in recovery from a heroin addiction, said the reason behind drug users’ preference for the potent synthetic opioid is simple – the high is better than heroin.

“A lot of people don’t even want the heroin anymore, they’d rather have the fentanyl — they get higher,” Bird said Monday from the VANDU office on East Hastings.

Delilah, a heroin user for 16 years, says she continues to buy heroin, but knows it can be laced with fentanyl.

“It’s stronger, and it helps,” she said, adding that she’s overdosed a couple of times, but believes she’s developed a tolerance for the drugs.

“It’s dangerous, but [the dealers] usually let us know. We just do a little amount of it, that’s all.”

Delilah’s experience and the findings of the new research is in contrast to government, health agency and police campaigns that say fentanyl the size of a grain of salt can kill a person.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control study, which was released Jan. 24 and published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, concluded researchers don’t fully understand the factors that contribute to people knowingly taking fentanyl.

However, Delilah’s insight about tolerance and Bird’s assessment about preference are in line with some of the study’s findings, with another factor being the drug’s widespread availability in the street drug supply.

The study’s lead author, Mohammad Karamouzian, a PhD student at the University of B.C.’s School of Population and Public Health, said he was shocked by the number of users saying they knowingly used fentanyl.

“Before we got the results, we honestly didn’t expect this,” Karamouzian said.

The overdose death crisis in B.C., which has claimed more than 4,800 lives since the beginning of 2016, has been linked largely to fentanyl, which doctors say is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.

The B.C. Coroners Service’s most recent data indicated 85 per cent of deaths between January and October 2019 involved fentanyl alone, or in combination with other substances.

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