Is the fentanyl situation an overdose crisis or a poisoning crisis?

published on September 2, 2017 by Jeremy Allingham in CBC News

When someone drinks too much, we call it alcohol poisoning. 

When someone takes too much of a drug, we call it an overdose. 

The difference in language may seem slight, but it says a lot about how our society differentiates between alcohol users and drug users. 

Some medical professionals working in the field say that if we speak about the fentanyl crisis in a more clinical, straightforward fashion, we can see it for what it is: a public health issue that can be addressed through the medical system.

“Poisoning” is a technically accurate diagnostic term for what’s happening inside the body. Meanwhile, the word “overdose,” meaning “to administer medicine in too large a dose,” implies that a drug user knows what the dose is, and chooses to take too much.

That implication of personal responsibility can exacerbate stigma, and the stigma is all too real, say those on the frontlines of B.C.’s fentanyl crisis. Every time CBC News covers the crisis, we receive harsh calls and emails. At best, the negative comments say drug use is a choice. At worst, they say the drug users’ death is somehow deserved.

Stigma puts drug users in danger

Words matter, and stigma is powerful. Medical professionals tell us that stigma prevents people from seeking help, from using drugs in the presence of others, from having naloxone kits on hand. It discourages supervised consumption sites from being built.

It puts drug users at risk, they say. 

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