The Provincial Health Services Authority, BC Centre for Disease Control and Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions have released new research indicating that fentanyl use in BC has doubled since 2015, with two-thirds of people admitting to being aware they’ve taken it.

Preliminary data from the BC Coroner’s Service shows that fentanyl and its counterpart carfentanil were found in 85% of fatal overdoses in 2019.

The study was based on data collected from 303 participants at 27 harm reduction sites across the province in 2018. Participants filled out a brief survey detailing their drug use and provided a urine sample which was then tested for fentanyl and other illicit substances.

When the synthetic opioid, which can be 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, first appeared in the drug supply, many people were taking it unknowingly. A similar study conducted in 2015 detected fentanyl in 29% of the samples, with 27% of those users being aware they had taken the substance. Those statistics have now changed, with 60% of the participants testing positive for fentanyl and 64% of those users being aware they had taken it.

“This research shows the majority of people who use fentanyl know they’re doing so,” says Dr. Jane Buxton, BCCDC epidemiologist and harm reduction lead. “Making people who use drugs aware of the presence of fentanyl in the drug supply isn’t enough; we need harm reduction services, substance use treatment, overdose prevention resources, and pharmaceutical alternatives to the toxic drug supply to reduce the devastating impact of fentanyl and its analogues on our communities.”