A press conference was held with Chief Medical Officer of Health Robert Strang today in Nova Scotia to announce the arrival of carfentanil on the streets. While it is nice to see an effort to educate the public on the new and highly dangerous opioid, the messaging could have been more effective if they toned down the sensationalism and upped the educational value.
It has been reported by several different media outlets that Dr. Strang described carfentanil as 100 times more potent than fentanyl . Dr. David Jurrlink (a drug safety researcher) has commented on a similar claim and stated:
Another issue of concern was the type of illicit drug the carfentanil was found in was not disclosed. Don Spicer with the Department of Justice explained the reasoning was: “We don’t want people to think that ‘I’m safe if I take this but I’m not safe if I take this one,’” Spicer said.
In the same breath when harm reduction and personal safety measures were described they were referenced to “street drugs” while those safety measures should be encouraged when using any opioid, illicit or prescribed. 93% of opioid overdose deaths in Nova Scotia last year were attributed to prescription opioids other than fentanyl. The focus on “street drugs” and not opioids as a whole does not give the most effective message to reduce harm. This actually perpetuates the “its safe because it came from a doctor” line of thinking.
The public deserves to know what drug was contaminated with carfentanil or if it was an isolated sample. Saying “It could be in any street drug” is in the mainstream media daily and the lack of knowledge will not deter most people from using, especially if they are already addicted.
The province needs to give the public timely and accurate information but more importantly accessible services. Scare tactics will not reduce use. We need to reduce harm by making naloxone more readily available, giving even more support to organizations like Mainline Needle Exchange, and developing supervised consumption services.
We need to reduce demand by ensuring there is access to low barrier treatment options like opioid substitution therapies and support services for those who have addiction and mental health needs.
Prevention efforts should include reducing unnecessary exposure to prescription opioids through more cautious evidence based prescribing and educating both the public and physicians on the harms associated with their use.
Nova Scotia needs help not hype.
GPDOTS will be advocating for all these things and more on July 22nd in Halifax at our event Advocate for Action on the Opioid Crisis. Please join us and lend your voice to this important issue!