Nova Scotia needs to anticipate a serious fentanyl problem

Health minister and chief medical officer talk about attending national opioid conference.

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Chief public health officer Dr. Robert Strang - PUBLIC HEALTH
  • Public Health
  • Chief public health officer Dr. Robert Strang

Health and Wellness officials say fentanyl use hasn’t escalated in Nova Scotia yet, but the province needs to work quickly to “get ahead of the problem.”

Minister Leo Glavine and chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strang, who both attended the national conference on opioid use in Ottawa last weekend, told reporters at a press conference Wednesday that the steps taken over the next few months will be vital in combatting the addiction crisis 

Those steps will include more opioid replacement programs and amendments to Bill C-2, which Glavine said will reduce the barriers to setting up safe injection sites.

“Research is showing that it’s leading to stronger entry into harm reduction.”

One of the larger issues spoken about at the conference was the inappropriate prescription of opioids by doctors. In January, federal health minister Jane Philpott will be sending new prescribing protocols to doctors throughout the country. Strang noted that changing how opioids are used and prescribed should be done cautiously.

“We’ve got to make sure we do that carefully, that we don’t actually take people who have a current dependence on opioids and actually cut off their supply and drive them to the illicit market,” said Strang. “This is a complex issue.”

So far this year, 49 Nova Scotians have died from opioid overdoses. Two of those deaths were from fentanyl.

“This is a very different drug from cocaine and heroin,” said Glavine. “Very small amounts are very, very powerful.”

The drug is making its way to Canada primarily from China. Given the strong effects of fentanyl, those small amounts can be transported through an envelope in the mail.

During the weekend of the conference, first responders in British Columbia were called to 36 overdoses in 48 hours. Most of the cases were tied to fentanyl.

“We have to be prepared to respond to something of a similar scale,” said Strang. “We need to be able to respond to save lives.”

Strang added that while they’re working as fast as they can, more deaths could happen at any time.

“I’m not naive. We’re gonna have some issues,” he said. “But we’re working to minimize the impact and then looking at the longer-term pieces: how do we keep people from entering addiction in the first place?”


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