COVID-19 is making it difficult for provincially run injection sites and continue the fight against the Ottawa’s opioid crisis.
According to Wendy Muckle, executive director of the Inner City Health, her Lowertown consumption site was running at a one to 1.5 per cent overdose rate for many months but jumped to 7.9 per cent in March. She anticipates the overdose rate will probably be higher for April thanks to the introduction of a new type of Fentanyl called orange Fentanyl.
“So for the longest time what was called purple fentanyl was the drug of choice,” Muckle said. “Suddenly we experience periods where there are shortages, you know people can’t buy drugs, and then when the drugs do become available they’re not what people are used to which makes it really difficult for people to judge their dose. In the last couple of days we have seen a new version of Fentanyl emerging on the market which is called orange Fentanyl because that is the colour of it and it is extremely bizarre, I guess I would say.”
For people that overdose on orange Fentanyl they will becomes stiff immediately and it’s difficult to intubate them to give them oxygen to help them breathe.
“And that’s not something that you would normally see with an overdose,” Muckle explained.
Muckle also adds that using drugs like Fentanyl leaves users open to the risk of contracting COVID-19.
“I think the risk of COVID-19 is the fact that you know people are injecting so they’re breaking the surface of their skin, the skin is one of our natural barriers. People who are using drugs often are you know in situations where social distancing isn’t really possible,” “If you think about the fact that we’re all supposed to be avoiding each other and not going within six feet of each other it’s really hard to buy illicit drugs and not actually physically hand off drugs and money between people as well people who are using drugs typically would be expected to have a lower immunity.”
Muckle says this cohort of people would be expected to have a harder time of fighting off infections.
“For example,” Muckle said, “you know people often will have abscesses and so their bodies are already involved in fighting off infections and so their immune system isn’t always available to fight off COVID-19 like it would be for you or I.”