Fentanyl test strips are designed to work in seconds and give a person a negative or positive sign that fentanyl is present in a substance. It also works with other analogues such as carfentanil. (ASHLEY WADHWANI PHOTO)

Editorial: Deepening opioid crisis number one story of 2017

Vast majority of street drugs, over 80 per cent, contain at least some fentanyl.

It wasn’t pretty, but it is our pick for the story of the year for 2017 in the Cowichan Valley.

In 2016 when the number of overdose deaths in the province started to break records each month, we thought it couldn’t get any worse. When it gets that bad, there’s only one way to go and that’s up, right?

Turns out we were terribly, naively, overly optimistic.

As bad as the opioid crisis was in 2016, it only got worse in 2017. The number of deaths skyrocketed, with the number attributable to fentanyl hitting heights we never could have imagined five years ago.

In August it was reported that the vast majority of street drugs, over 80 per cent, contain at least some fentanyl. Think about that. It means that it’s almost impossible for an addict, or even an occasional recreational user, to buy illegal drugs that don’t contain the death sentence waiting to happen that is fentanyl.

The B.C. government declared a public health emergency in April.

And while Vancouver’s downtown east side is undoubtedly the epicentre of this scourge, no community is immune. Between January 2016 and June 2017 there were more than 25 overdose deaths in the Cowichan Valley. That is an astronomical number for our small community.

With their eyes on these numbers, Island Health opened an overdose prevention site in Duncan. Soon the site will have test strips available so people can find out if their drugs contain fentanyl before they inject, snort, smoke or ingest them. We can only hope that if they know their drugs are laced with fentanyl, this will dissuade at least some users from rolling the dice. And that people will stop dropping their needles.

These kinds of emergency measures to stop people from dying are certainly needed. But also desperately needed are longer term solutions. Maybe we will be able to write about the proliferation of those in 2018. We certainly hope so.

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