Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Fentanyl Epidemic

“I’m a doctor just like you,” he said.  I knew him in passing.  A good fellow.  Well intentioned. Most of his life a drug addict.  Now he and a friend like two teen agers going fishing patrolled the Downtown Eastside with Narcan kits they got free from the pharmacy.  Instead of trout he caught life slipping away in the gutters. Occasionally, he brought it back with drama and flourish.
“I’ve saved a dozen lives,” he said.
It was good entertainment. He used himself. The suboxone helped him and only a few times a week did he ‘party’.
 “We like the fentanyl because it’s strong enough we can push through the suboxone.” he said.  The patients liked the oral methadone and suboxone because it stopped the withdrawal sickness.  They could have a life separate from the daily grind of finding the money and getting high.
Their faces linger in my memory.  Only weeks ago I saw them.  A couple of young Caucasian women, in their 20’s with boyfriends.  They came as couples to get their opiate replacement medication.
I talk up a storm about AA/NA/SMART, the non pharmacological treatment groups, Detox and Treatment Centres and Recovery Homes..  We really only get paid for the prescriptions. The doctors break into two groups. The rich ones who write a lot of prescriptions and the poorer ones like me who do counselling and try each time to push the patients closer to recovery.
Recovery isn’t Harm Reduction.  Recovery is a proactive program of wellness leading to abstinence from mood altering substances.  Harm reduction is supposed to be a step on the way. But now our Prime Minister is so vocal about smoking pot and all the tobacco company wealth is back in the business of smoke everyone in the DTES is either smoking marijuana or cigarettes or both.  The trouble with drug addiction is that it really dulls the senses and their addiction to smoke is seen as nothing compared to the heroin and crystal meth and crack cocaine.  Then there’s the sex addiction, gambling and pornography and crime.  It’s a smorgasbord of free choice in the DTES.
But mostly they tell me they don’t want God or any of that spiritual or religious stuff.  They want drugs.  Addicts are materialist hedonists.  They are sometimes even like the monkeys we studied back in school with the electrodes in their amygdala pleasure centre who would live to pull the lever of pleasure.
More and more they tell me they don't want any of the recovery options. "I just want that free heroin. Can you direct me to where I can get my injections for free.  I don't want to stop using. I just want to get the stuff free."
Each of the women was demure with whimsical smiles and street smart eyes. College drop out. They’d been into opiates only for a year or two at most. They’d started with pills they got at parties and then became hooked. With their boyfriends they now needed fentanyl pills every day, at least one or two, sometimes more. They ground up the pills and snorted them.  They smoked marijuana too.  A lot of the marijuana had been sprinkled with fentanyl so the herb was hurting folk bad.  Even the organic shops marijuana had been tested and come back positive for fentanyl. I imagined with the fentanyl so cheap dealers were going about sprinkling powder here and there to increase their clientele.
Drug dealers are lizards who want to be your friend.
The Fentanyl was coming from China.  It was sold on line and brought in over the border en mass.  My hypochondriac patients complain that it and crystal meth are in the air in the DTES.  The paranoids are afraid of the food outside in the markets. They’re crazy but no more so than the neighbourhood.
It’s just that their faces linger. The two women from last month. I've mostly forgotten the patients that died before them.
Sometimes I remember Gordon Lightfoots song, “Only a go go girl in love with someone who doesn’t care.”  I think of their mothers.
They’re dead now.
Their boyfriends each on different weeks came in and told me the same story.
“We got high together and overdosed.  I woke up but she didn’t”.
They were sad but it hadn’t changed their own drug habit.  If anything they did more.  Running from the demons. Burying the pain.
“Sometimes you see the shadows out of the corner of your eye,’ the older guys tell me.
I talk about higher power and participation.  I repeat till the cows come home that it’s a disease of relationship and that they have to find a way to associate with people that don’t use.  I hand out pamphlets and point them to all the different groups and services that we have.  The government pays for drug and alcohol counsellors but it’s like getting adolescent boys out of gangs, one on one care doesn’t work. They need a new group, a new club, a new association.  Their religion is addiction. They see their drug as god and their dealer as their priest.  It’s high ritual.  The language doesn't tell you that but it's there as bold as the body bags.
I ask him if he’s stopped using.
“Not yet. “ he says telling me about the great feeling saving a life gives him with his free narcan kits.  I think of it as band aids.  It’s like a lone medic in Afghanistan. Every life counts.  Don Quixote charges another wind mill.  There has to be a Dulcinea.
I expect the feminists would call me chauvinist because I remember those two women more than the half dozen more young men I’ve known who are just as dead in these last few months.  It’s wrong to even speak of gender. Freedom of speech is dying as quickly as youth.  It's only okay to speak of what we're told to speak.  Designated truth or fake news.  More illusion of choice. There are so many divisions today.  I worry I’ll offend someone even by asking them to live. The Prime Minister is proud of his new physician assisted suicide programs.  They’re opening more and more needle injection sites with dilaudid and some are even giving free heroin.
They once assisted the Tong, Euro Gangs and Hell’s Angels who brought in the Heroin profiting by the government taking care of providing drug clubs, keeping their business alive with safe injection sites  and carrying all the costs of bad drugs.  Now they’re actually going toe to toe with pharmaceutical grade product versus the ‘shit they call down’, the gangs provide.
“It’s not heroin anymore.  It’s not been for a long time. Synthetic shit. That’s why the fentanyl is attractive. Cheaper and it does the trick better.” he said.
The uppers go with the downers.  Jib, or crystal meth is everywhere as well. Not as much crack smoking as doing jib these days.  There’s a lot of doing jib then heroin to get to sleep and then getting onto straight heroin and maybe cigarettes or pot. After the drugs get happening big time the alcohol which may or may not have been there in the beginning becomes less important.  Some say drugs account for 80 or 90% of the material theft.  The insurance companies are not suffering.
Legalization which is what our Prime Minister was pushing means that a drug could be sold in a school candy machine. If it’s legal, it’s legal. Like mother’s milk.
Decriminalization is accepting the disease model and treating the whole matter not as a moral issue but rather as an epidemic.  Harm Reduction, really palliative care, a term with a marketing twist came out of the cancer treatment and then the Aids Epidemic.
Harm reduction may not be that good for the individual. Individuals do best if they get into AA or NA , treatment, recovery houses or join a church.  When they look at people 20 years abstinent individually they mostly work,  belong to spiritual organizations and have replaced their previous habit with community participation and love.  Love of God, love of family, love of fellow man and woman.  Drug addiction is at best mental masturbation.
The Harm Reduction is good public health and ultimately may be preventative as the profit in drug sales moves into the public purse. It’s hard to say if there’s any less gambling today but the government gets the money rather than the Mafia.  Now one then wonders what’s the difference between public sector crime and private sector crime.
But I’m a medic in D Day and the enemy in this case, the drug dealers, they don’t provide medics for their ‘side’.  I still think I'm on the good side. I just don't know some days if I'm doing righteous work or enabling.  There’s a whole lot of other types of medicine I could do.  But I’m down here in the DTES with more and more young people. When I began in the 80's working in a detox the clientele was mostly in their 50's.  Not a lot of really old people in this work.  Living past 60 not so common here as in the suburbs.
My patient is going off with his buddy to look for more bodies in back alleys in hope he can revive them.
I’m just doing what doctors do, pushing life, where the profit always seems to be more in pushing death.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I guess you forgive them