‘Nobody Knows’: UBC struggles to respond to Vancouver’s fentanyl crisis

published on November 15, 2017 by Zak Vescera in The Ubyssey

Fentanyl in Vancouver is a crisis traditional health services at UBC aren’t prepared to face.

You’re at a party, and suddenly someone falls to the ground. It’s an overdose caused by drugs laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 10 to 100 times stronger than heroin. Depending on the dosage, there might be mere minutes before the damage is permanent — or even fatal.

The solution is naloxone, a powerful opioid antagonist administered via injection or nasal spray that can offset the effects of an overdose for 30 to 90 minutes.

Dr. Lindsey Richardson, an associate professor at UBC specializing in medical sociology, said that while stigma we attach to substances can sometimes reduce usage, it can also cut off users from seeking help.

“Stigmatization in some instances prompts reductions in use,” she explained. “For example, tobacco smoking is down because it’s been stigmatized in a widespread way.

“However, stigma [can also] have significant negative consequences … often related to people’s willingness to seek out care and treatment for what they are dealing with.”

When it comes to drug use, Richardson indicated the latter is more common.

“Stigma will often remove people from treatment systems and services because they don’t want people to know,” she said.

Aside from the mental barrier of stigma, users were concerned that revealing their drug use would result in consequences from UBC itself.

Stephanie Lake, a PhD student at the UBC School of Public Health and the chair of the Vancouver chapter of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Use (CSSD), said that UBC students can face severe penalties for drug possession from the university as well as legal authorities.

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