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High-potency fentanyl circulating in North Surrey, police warns

Fentanyl test strips are used to detect the presence of the substance in illicit drugs. The presence of fentanyl circulating in the streets has increased dramatically over the last few years. (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)
Fentanyl test strips are used to detect the presence of the substance in illicit drugs. The presence of fentanyl circulating in the streets has increased dramatically over the last few years. (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)

After responding to five overdose deaths in seven days in North Surrey, police issued a statement Friday, warning the public of drugs with high-potency fentanyl mixed with benzodiazepine making the rounds in the area.

"In the last few days, our response units have noticed an increase in overdoses as well as overdose deaths in the Whalley area of North Surrey," Cpl. Sarbjit K. Sangha, media relations officer with the Surrey RCMP, told CBC News in an interview.

Sangha said the higher-potency fentanyl could increase the risk of an overdose and that drug users should exercise caution and use the safe consumption site, Safepoint, at 13459-107A Ave.

Drug users are also encouraged not to use alone and to carry naloxone kits.

Naloxone, administered by spray or injection, can reverse the effects of opioids, including heroin, fentanyl or morphine.

According to preliminary data released by the B.C. Coroners Service, 189 people have died from illicit toxic drugs in October, bringing the number of deaths to 2,039 in the first 10 months of 2023. The coroners' data shows that fentanyl and its analogues have been responsible for over 85 per cent of toxic drug deaths.

The only way to know if drugs purchased illicitly aren't toxic is through a drug-checking service, says Sangha.

"It's very hard to tell when you're looking at the drugs if they are toxic," she said.

A statue commemorating people who have died to drug overdoses is pictured at Seaforth Peace Park in Vancouver, British Columbia on Wednesday, April 13, 2022.
A statue commemorating people who have died to drug overdoses is pictured at Seaforth Peace Park in Vancouver, British Columbia on Wednesday, April 13, 2022.

A statue commemorating people who have died to drug overdoses is pictured at Seaforth Peace Park in Vancouver, in April 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Fraser Health, the health authority responsible for harm reduction services in Surrey, launched a text alert system last year to warn users about illicit substances and increases in toxic drug poisonings in the region.

The system is run by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and allows people to anonymously submit information about drug overdoses and supply to harm reduction teams.

'There is support available'

Sukh Shergill with the Surrey Overdose Response Community Action Team says many people who use drugs in Surrey are afraid to seek help due to stigma.

The group runs a support phone line for people in the South Asian community who may not reach out through other avenues.

"What they're telling us is they feel ashamed," Shergill told CBC News on Saturday. "They're burdened by what that means when somebody is labelled as an addict."

Shergill says there aren't enough treatment and support centres for people using drugs. Nevertheless, he says, those who want help should continue to seek it out.

"Stick with it," said Shergill.

"There is support available, it's just not working as synergistically as people need right now."