Cpl. Don Wrigglesworth of the Penticton RCMP holds a syringe as emergency workers put an overdose victim on a stretcher at a Government Street house in November. Mark Brett/Western News

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. Marcus Lem, B.C. CDC senior medical advisor on opioids, addictions and overdoses, said going from a little-known medical tool to one of the province’s greatest demons can affect the public perception.

“There’s a lot of fear and concern regarding exposure to fentanyl, but a lot of these fears and concerns are overblown, and there’s a lot of inaccurate information out there,” Lem 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, Lem said 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, in the absence of that, often the vacuum is filled with misinformation,” Lem said. “We’re trying to put out some of the basic messaging.”

That messaging is four major points that the CDC is trying to drive home: Street grade fentanyl does not become airborne, fentanyl is not easily absorbed through the skin, there have been no cases of overdose in health-care workers, first responders or citizens responding to an overdose victim in thousands of resuscitations B.C.-wide and there hasn’t been any 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, Lem said further damage can be done when society stigmatizes overdose victims.

“In some ways we make the folks who are overdosing, essentially we make them untouchable. We make them a class of people that, ‘no, you can’t touch that person,’” Lem said. “Is there anything more stigmatizing than saying they are untouchable?”

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.”

As per the old adage, “if it bleeds, it leads,” Lem said it can be an uphill battle to combat the false, overtly negative messages out in the public, especially when institutions like the B.C. CDC are involved in warning of the drug’s fatal dangers.

“Things that are sensational always grab people’s attention more than things which calm folks down.”

Lem said he is seeing some fact checking in the media, with experts coming out to debunk some of the myths surrounding fentanyl.

Related: Overdose rate climbing in the Okanagan

Lem suggests media consumers watch out for stories without medical verification or medical expert analysis.

“In the end, truthfully, for a layperson reading a news story, it’s very, very difficult to tell. When you read something on the internet, it could seem perfectly plausible,” he said. “You have to be an expert, in some cases, to know what’s plausible and what’s not plausible.

“Usually the first thing I would say is getting it from a reputable source, but with what’s going on nowadays, even that may be kind of suspect.”

Further to that, Lem suggests journalists go to reputable sources to verify information they have received.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Strathcona Regional District has applied again for funding for RE-CREATE project. File photo
Second round of grant funding ‘last chance hotel’ for Strathcona Gardens reno — Commissioner

Commission thinks streamlined application, lower funding ask gives better shot at success

Brighter Day, a youth-led initiative based out of Volunteer Campbell River, is looking to connect seniors and youth with a new pen pal program to help make everyone more connected during this socially-distanced time. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror
New pen-pal program looks to connect seniors and youth in Campbell River

Hope is to ‘make both parties feel less isolated through these challenging times’

As part of NSG, the Vancouver Foundation recently awarded a grant to an Abbotsford resident to organize a socially distanced driveway dinner party for neighbours to get to know each other. Grant applications for such projects can be made with the Campbell River Community Foundation before Oct.26, by residents of Sayward, Quadra and Campbell River. (Neighbourhood Small Grant photo)
Campbell River Community Foundation announces its first Neighbourhood Small Grants program

Grants up to $500 available for projects that comply with physical distancing guidelines from Campbell River, Sayward, Quadra among others

Village of Sayward
Mayoral candidates announced for Sayward ahead of Nov. 21 local byelections

The three positions that will be filled includes a mayor and two councillors

Campbell River Arts Council Executive Director Ken Blackburn was one of a dozen or so divers who took part in the McIvor Lake cleanup day put on by the Campbell River Tide Rippers dive club Oct. 4. Photo courtesy Campbell River Tide Rippers
Campbell River dive club takes 200kg of trash out of McIvor Lake

‘Sometimes we come across things that make you wonder what people were thinking’

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

Members of the Sipekne’katik First Nation load lobster traps on the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S., after launching its own self-regulated fishery on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Vancouver Island First Nations back Nova Scotia’s Indigenous lobster fishermen

Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council calls for action before lives are lost

Skiers line up to start the Royal LePage Comox Valley Snow to Surf Adventure Relay Race. Photo by Tim Penney
Popular Comox Valley adventure race cancelled for 2021

COVID forces Comox Valley Royal LePage Snow to Surf Adventure Relay Race cancellation again

Most Read