‘Ottawa’ Opioids, Counterfeit Pills and the Message Kids and Adults Need to Hear
When someone takes a tablet containing fentanyl, it’s like they’re looking at a gumball machine knowing it has hundreds of green gumballs and that odd red one.
The green gumballs are the pills that result in the user’s expected high — or sometimes have no effect at all.
The red gumballs are deadly.
The problem is, it’s impossible to say which gumballs are green and which are red, or even how many red gumballs there are in the machine.
This is why it’s so hard for warnings about counterfeit pharmaceuticals to get traction, says Matthew Young, a senior research and policy analyst at the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.
Such warnings have gained an additional poignance in recent days after the family of 14-year-old Chloe Kotval publicly called on police and public officials to take action against the prevalence of “high-grade counterfeit pharmaceuticals.”
The local teen died on Valentine’s Day from an apparent drug overdose.
Counterfeit drugs may look like prescription drugs — clandestine labs often use pill pressers that make their product look like the oxycodone tablets. But quality control is poor. Bulking ingredients are used to increase the volume of the product without increasing the amount of the active substances such as fentanyl, says the Canadian Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use.
However, the active substances are not evenly distributed across a batch of tablets. It’s not just the potency or toxicity of the active substance that increases the risk of overdose, but the variability from one tablet to another.
People who buy lottery tickets expect that they will win, even though they know the odds are against them. Taking one of these tablets is “the inverse of buying a lottery ticket,” says Young.
Teens who use drugs less often may be at greater risk of deadly overdose than habitual users, some of whom will take precautions such as having naloxone available in case of overdose. Teens may also have a poor understanding of their tolerance, and they may mix opioids with alcohol.