In the midst of the opioid crisis, two new veterinary tranquilizers have been detected in samples of fentanyl sold on the streets of Ontario, plunging users into a deep state of unconsciousness and further increasing the risk of overdoses. Already, experts see a “trend” that will increase. And it’s only a matter of time before this new substance makes its way to Montreal.
At the end of December, two new substances appeared on the radar of specialists at the Toronto Drug Analysis Service, which analyzes drugs circulating on the street. “It was the first time that we detected these substances. But since then, we have found them in 11% of the fentanyl samples provided to us,” explains Hayley Thompson, director of the organization.
“This therefore means that it is not something sporadic, that we would have seen only once and which would have disappeared afterwards, it is really something which is there and, although It’s too early to tell, we think it will become a trend. »
Medetomidine and dexmedetomidine are tranquilizers used in veterinary medicine to “put animals into a deep state of unconsciousness,” explains the expert. The use of the first is approved only for animals, while the second can also be used as a sedative or to relieve pain in humans. The chemical structure of these two substances is very similar, which is why the instruments used at the Toronto Drug Analysis Unit are unable to distinguish them from each other in a context where they are diluted in a complex chemical cocktail .
Risks of overdose
These animal tranquilizers are mixed with other substances — often without consumers’ knowledge — into fentanyl, an extremely powerful opioid that has invaded the illicit market in recent years in Canada and the United States.
“We are very concerned because very few people know about it [de la présence de la médétomidine et de la dexmédétomidine dans le fentanyl], explains Hayley Thompson. We must ensure that users who consume fentanyl, and those who provide them with care, are aware that we find ourselves — once again — with new contaminants that put people at even greater risk. »
These two substances would be even more powerful than xylazine, another animal tranquilizer mixed with fentanyl to prolong its euphoric effect, but which plunges its users into a comatose state. Like benzodiazepines, they can cause respiratory and cardiac depression. Mixed with fentanyl, they “increase the risk of fatal or non-fatal overdoses,” explains Hayley Thompson.
Naloxone does not work on these veterinary tranquilizers to prevent overdose, states the public advisory which was issued last week by the Toronto Drug Analysis Service. But we suggest using it nonetheless, since it will act at least on the opioids which are generally present and which contribute to the overdose.
In Quebec, the presence of these two veterinary tranquilizers has not yet been reported, according to the general director of the community organization Cactus, Jean-François Mary. However, he specifies that the equipment available to his organization to test the drug in circulation may not be up to the task of detecting this substance in small concentrations. He says he is concerned, but believes that the situation is already so catastrophic, with an average of 100 non-fatal overdoses per month in his body, that it cannot be more so.
Researcher and professor at the University of Montreal Jean-Sébastien Fallu had never heard of these new contaminants before seeing and sharing the notice from the Toronto Drug Analysis Service on social networks last week. But he is convinced that it is only a matter of time before they find themselves in circulation on the streets of the metropolis. “That’s still the case,” he said. What is on the market in the United States, in Western Canada and even more in Ontario, which is right next door, will eventually be found here in 100% of cases. »
The incessant addition of new substances that contaminate the market is proof, according to Mr. Fallu, that drugs must be decriminalized and legalized. “It is once again the demonstration that we will never win [avec] prohibition. It just keeps going with new products that we don’t know about, and it’s always going to be like that, and people are going to continue to die. I’m trying not to be shocked, but it’s really infuriating. We have a public health crisis, the world is dying. There are not 1000 solutions, we must stop letting people die by getting their supplies from uncontrolled illegal markets. »