Canadian pharmacy to offer fentanyl test kit

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A pharmacy in Winnipeg, Manitoba, will soon sell cheap tests to assist drug users in finding out whether or not their wares are spiked with fentanyl. The drug, 100 times more powerful than morphine, has been wreaking havoc on communities across Canada and the United States.

In what has been dubbed a "disaster" in Canada, deaths due to fentanyl ingestion are on the rise. The drug is traditionally found in counterfeit painkillers and in bags of heroin, where it is mixed in to give the product a stronger kick. But according to Michael Watts, the owner and manager of Brothers Pharmacy in Winnipeg, fentanyl is also being found in non-opioid street drugs.

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"One of the problems I've seen is people get addicted to opiates without knowing they're taking opiates," Watts told CBC. "A lot of the dealers will lace cocaine, lace marijuana with fentanyl powder. Then all of a sudden the person becomes to addicted to opiates without knowingly taking an opiate."

Watts said he heard about other provinces offering fentanyl tests for users and decided to look into it for his own pharmacy. "The kits are really hard to come by in Manitoba. Not many people knew anything about it," he said. "We called around to Ontario and B.C. [British Columbia]. Finally we found a company that can supply the strips to us." The strips cost $5 and test for fentanyl contamination.

More about the deadly opiate

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A seized counterfeit hydrocodone tablets in the investigation of a rash of fentanyl overdoses in northern California is shown in this Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) photo released on April 4, 2016. At least 42 drug overdoses in the past two weeks have been reported in northern California, 10 of them fatal, in what authorities on Monday called the biggest cluster of poisonings linked to the powerful synthetic narcotic fentanyl ever to hit the U.S. West Coast. REUTERS/Drug Enforcement Administration/Handout via Reuters
Fentanyl Citrate, a CLASS II Controlled Substance as classified by the Drug Enforcement Agency in the secure area of a local hospital Friday, July10, 2009. Joe Amon / The Denver Post (Photo By Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
This undated photo provided by the Cuyahoga County Medical Examinerâs Office shows fentanyl pills. Authorities say they've arrested Ryan Gaston, a man in a Cleveland suburb after seizing more than 900 fentanyl pills marked liked tablets of the less-potent opiate oxycodone. The Cuyahoga County medical examiner said that lookalike pills were likely to blame for some of the county's 19 fentanyl-related overdose deaths in January 2016. (Cuyahoga County Medical Examinerâs Office via AP)
A collection of different brand and dosages of the Fentanyl patch, clearly marked wit warnings about non-precribed uses, Wednesday, April 26,2006 in St. Louis. Abuse of the patch is on a steady upward swing leading to many deaths. Emergency rooms visits by people misusing the pain relieving opiate fentanyl shot up nearly 14-fold nationwide from 2000 to 2004 to 8,000, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' figures. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)
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The tests will provide a necessary service for the province's drug users. A recent study by Vancouver Coastal Health showed that 86 percent of street drugs tested at Insite, a supervised injection site, tested positive for fentanyl. "We've been telling them, 'Fentanyl is on the street. Be careful,' but they don't necessarily have a sense of, 'Well, what about the drugs I'm taking?'" Mark Lysyshyn, a medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health, told CBC. "We track whether [drugs are] positive or negative [for fentanyl] and then we post it on posters so even people who don't check their drugs can get the information."

Lysyshyn added that the fentanyl tests Brothers Pharmacy are using do have limitations — they only work on street drugs that are water soluble, for instance — and that health officials are still investigating how accurate they are. But Watts maintained that his pharmacy's $5 test is simply a starting point. "We're actively searching for a test that will test a wider range of drugs," he said.

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What opioids do to your health
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What opioids do to your health

Opioid painkillers capitalize on our body's natural pain-relief system. We all have a series of naturally produced keys ("ligands") and keyholes ("receptors") that fit together to switch on our brain's natural reward system — it's the reason we feel good when we eat a good meal or have sex, for example. But opioids mimic the natural keys in our brain — yes, we all have natural opioids! When they click in, we can feel an overwhelming sense of euphoria.

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Opioid painkillers can have effects similar to heroin and morphine, especially when taken in ways other than prescribed by a doctor.

When prescription painkillers act on our brain's pleasure and reward centers, they can make us feel good. More importantly, though, they can work to reinforce behavior, which in some people can trigger a repeated desire to use.

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You may also feel sleepy.

Opioids act on multiple brain regions, but when they go to work in the locus ceruleus, a brain region involved in alertness, they can make us sleepy. Why? The drugs essentially put the brakes on the production of a chemical called norepinephrine, which plays a role in arousal.

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Your skin may feel flushed and warm.

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You'll begin to feel their effects 10 to 90 minutes after use, depending on whether they're taken as directed or used in more dangerous ways.

Some drugmakers design versions of their medications to deter abuse. Extended-release forms of oxycodone, for example, are designed to release slowly when taken as directed. But crushing, snorting, or injecting the drugs can hasten their effects.

It can also be deadly. Between 2000 and 2014, nearly half a million Americans died from overdoses involving opioid painkillers and heroin, a report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. The most commonly prescribed painkillers were involved in more overdose deaths than any other type of the drug.

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Your breathing will slow as well.

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Depending on the method used, the effect can last anywhere from four to 12 hours.

For severe pain, doctors typically prescribe opioid painkillers like morphine for a period of four to 12 hours, according to the Mayo Clinic. Because of their risks, it's important to take prescription painkillers only according to your physician's specific instructions.

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Overdosing can stop breathing and cause brain damage, coma, or even death.

2014 report from the American Academy of Neurology estimates that more than 100,000 Americans have died from prescribed opioids since the late 1990s. Those at highest risk include people between 35 and 54, the report found, and deaths for this age group have exceeded deaths from firearms and car crashes.

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Combining them with alcohol or other drugs — even when taken according to the directions — can be especially deadly.

Since they slow breathing, combining opioid painkillers with other drugs with similar effects can drastically raise the chances of accidental overdose and death.

Yet they're often prescribed together anyway, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Unfortunately, too many patients are still co-prescribed opioid pain relievers and benzodiazepines [tranquilizers]," the institute said. In 2011, 31% of prescription opioid-related overdose deaths involved these drugs.

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Abusing opioid painkillers has been linked with abusing similar drugs, like heroin.

A CDC report found that people who'd abused opioid painkillers were 40 times as likely to abuse heroin compared with people who'd never abused them. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that close to half of young people surveyed in three recent studies who'd injected heroin said they'd abused prescription painkillers before they started using heroin.

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You may also develop a tolerance for the drugs so that you need more to get the same effect over time.

Tolerance to opioid painkillers happens when the brain cells with opioid receptors — the keyholes where the opioids fit — become less responsive to the opioid stimulation over time. Scientists think that this may play a powerful role in addiction.

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Suddenly stopping the drugs can result in withdrawal symptoms like shakiness, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Taking prescription painkillers for an extended period increases the likelihood that your brain will adapt to them by making less of its own natural opioids. So when you stop taking the drugs, you can feel pretty miserable. For most people, this is uncomfortable but temporary.

But in people who are vulnerable to addiction, it can be dangerous because it can spurn repeated use.

"From a clinical standpoint, opioid withdrawal is one of the most powerful factors driving opioid dependence and addictive behaviors," Yale psychiatrists Thomas Kosten and Tony George write in a 2002 paper in the Journal of Addiction Science & Clinical Practice.

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The post Canadian Pharmacy To Offer Fentanyl Test Kit appeared first on Vocativ.

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