Frontline outreach workers say they are seeing a rise in the number of fake Xanax pills circulating in the Halifax area that contain the deadly opioid fentanyl.
“We definitely are starting to see more contamination within different substances in Halifax,” said Matthew Bonn, an outreach worker for Halifax Area Network of Drug Using People.
Health officials recently warned that Xanax, a benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety, is being increasingly abused by teens in Nova Scotia. Benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax been involved in a large number of Canadian opioid overdose deaths.
Bonn said it would be easy to overdose from taking pills cut with fentanyl — a potent and cheap drug that’s caused thousands of deaths across Canada.
There’s a misconception that overdose deaths only occur with intravenous use, said Bonn.
“I’ve seen people overdose from sniffing pills or just taking a quantity of pills. I don’t think people are really prepared because they don’t think it’s going to happen if you’re just swallowing a few pills,” said Bonn, who is also one of the co-founders of Halifax, a group advocating for the first overdose prevention site in Atlantic Canada.
A post on social media shows yellow and pink contaminated pills. Bonn said he’s also seen red and green fake pills.
Underground manufacturers use fentanyl and other substances to maximize profit from selling the pills disguised as the pharmaceutical tranquillizer Xanax, said Bonn.
“People who are using, especially maybe youth, that are just taking a couple pills to take their anxiety away or to go out and have some drinks aren’t going to want to do fentanyl,” he said.
“But if somebody can mix it in with a substance that they do enjoy taking, they can slowly start to get them dependent on an opioid. It does happen a lot more than you would think.”
Bonn suggests avoiding new suppliers, getting substances checked, never using alone and always having a naloxone kit.