Health officials battling damaging fentanyl myths

The B.C. CDC says some myths can cause hesitance to using life-saving measures on an overdose victim

From countering myths and misperceptions to stifling stigmas, health experts say a major part of battling a relentless overdose crisis, driven in large part by fentanyl, involves making sure the right messages are getting across.

With fentanyl slipping evermore present into the illicit drug market, it is a major driver in a skyrocketing number of fatal overdoses in the province.

“There’s a lot of fear and concern regarding exposure to fentanyl, and there’s a lot of inaccurate information out there,” Marcus Lem, B.C. CDC senior medical advisor on opioids, addictions and overdoses said, noting in particular fears of first responders overdosing from contact with an overdose victim.

“We don’t really have any verified accounts of these. First of all, we know that for reversals of the overdoses, using naloxone, there are tens of thousands of resuscitations have happened … and we never had one single verified account of somebody overdosing from coming in contact with an overdose victim.”

Related: May numbers: Four deaths per day caused by illicit drugs

With so many deaths resulting from fentanyl in all social stratas fear is driving the spread of misinformation, adding that there’s a “lack of good information” accessible to the public.

“Consequently, although at B.C. CDC and other public health organizations, we’re doing our best to try and change that,” Lem said. “We’re trying to put out some of the basic messaging.”

Four important facts:

1. Street grade fentanyl does not become airborne,

2. Fentanyl is not easily absorbed through the skin,

3. There have been no cases of overdose in health-care workers, first responders or citizens responding to an overdose victim, and

4. There is no evidence of fentanyl in illicit marijuana.

Despite many claims of fentanyl-laced marijuana, the RCMP have said they have never siezed any.

Lem said while there’s little risk in resuscitating an overdose victim, there’s a major risk incurred by the proliferation of myths involving first responders overdosing through skin contact or airborne fentanyl.

“The big danger of this misinformation is fear will lead people to not provide life-saving care to folks, which include artificial respiration or breaths and naloxone,” Lem said.

Overdose deaths by city
Infogram

By extension, further damage can be done when society stigmatizes overdose victims.

Even those who are aware of the limitations to fentanyl’s potent danger can be hesitant to let go of the fear that might drive people away from aiding a downed drug user. But Lem said ultimately knowledge does lead to better practices.

“A lot of it has to do with fear and fear of the unknown and also with social stigma. But, as with all things, the more you know about it, the less fearful you need to be,” Lem said. “It allows you to take proper precautions and know what the proper precautions would be.”