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Doug FirbyIn my stepson’s circle of friends, Jordan was the gentle giant. Six feet-plus and probably 300 pounds, he was famed for his willingness to defend his friends and his ability to down beers in massive quantities.

Neither his might nor his popularity, however, could protect him from a menace that is tearing a deep and ragged hole into our social fabric – fentanyl.

Jordan’s too-short life came to an abrupt end last week. His brother found him alone in the basement of his father’s house, face down on the keyboard of his computer, OD’d on fentanyl. We will not know what his last thoughts were, how much he might have been aware of what was happening, or even, for that matter, why he thought he might be safe taking this alarmingly popular narcotic on his own.

How did this happen? It is a question that is haunting his heartbroken friends.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opiate analgesic, according to the U.S. National Institute on drug abuse. It is similar to, but more potent than, morphine and it has legitimate medical uses, including the management of pain after surgery, treatment of chronic pain for people who are physically tolerant to opiates and end-of-life palliative care.

It provides a euphoric high, not unlike heroin. The street versions of fentanyl are reportedly much more potent than those used in medicine. Largely a product of clandestine labs in China, it is often mixed with heroin or cocaine, amplifying potency but also rendering it potentially lethal.

A recent series in the Globe and Mail claims the growth of illicit fentanyl has its roots in Canada’s epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse. The paper reported that some doctors are indiscriminately prescribing highly addictive opioids to treat chronic pain, fueling a dependency that has spilled into the street. When OxyContin was removed from the market in Canada in 2012, fentanyl stepped into the void.

What is shocking is how easy it is to buy. Because it is so potent, it can be sent through the mail in packages smaller than 30 grams – the point at which federal authorities do not open packages to inspect their contents. Jordan told his friends that vendors simply label the contents as something legal and innocuous and the drug sails through to your mail box.

It is quite literally a mail-order high – no need to make deals in shady back alleys.

The street fentanyl fad reportedly began in British Columbia a few short years ago and then slithered into Alberta. The death toll in that province has increased 10-fold in three years, to 418 in 2015. A recent high-profile case in Winnipeg in which a couple was rescued from a fentanyl overdose suggest the drug is rapidly marching east. Failing a dramatic increase in federal and provincial government attention, the wildfire is likely to spread across the entire country.

Any sudden death is tragic, but the loss of this young man has left his friends and family reeling. Some of his friends are racked with guilt, asking themselves whether could have said or done something that could have interrupted his self-destructive path. That’s the trouble, though – unlike many of the “legacy” street drugs, this one is so new on the scene many people, who still feel a bit infallible, are not fully aware of its dangers.

A couple hundred people gathered on the weekend in a community hall in the Calgary to pay tribute to their friend. They reflected on his mischievous sense of adventure, his sharp wit and his talent. Everyone had an anecdote of the person so many considered a personal friend.

No one spoke, however, about what brought him down. The thought is too new, too raw, to comprehend.

As I listened to testimonial after testimonial, I wondered just what it will take to get the message out to people across this country. Unless Canadians start to pay attention, this senseless death could be just the edge of a massive tsunami of waste washing across the country.

Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen. Let’s not rely on “the authorities” alone to slay this dray. Let us pull together as a community to look out for our friends.

Doug Firby is Editor-in-Chief of Calgary’s Business and Edmonton’s Business.

© Troy Media


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