News / Edmonton

Young drug users skipping pot, going straight to opioids like fentanyl

Addictions specialist says increasing numbers of Edmonton teens are getting hooked on fentanyl

Dr. Hakique Virani, medical director at Metro City Medical Clinic and an assistant professor at the University of Alberta, says he’s treating increasing numbers of teens with fentanyl addictions.

Chris Bolin / Supplied

Dr. Hakique Virani, medical director at Metro City Medical Clinic and an assistant professor at the University of Alberta, says he’s treating increasing numbers of teens with fentanyl addictions.

An Edmonton addictions specialist says increasing numbers of teens are skipping booze and pot and jumping straight to hard drugs like fentanyl.

“We’ve never been this busy,” said Metro City Medical Clinic’s medical director, Dr. Hakique Virani.  “One of the differences we’re seeing today (versus) four to six years ago, is the number of young people who come in looking for treatment because they’re addicted to opioids – including fentanyl – never having used marijuana, never having drank alcohol.”

Virani said his methadone clinic has patients who are “fresh out of high school” and have been using for upwards of four years.

He attributes the spike in opioid use to availability and affordability – fentanyl is brought over cheaply from China in large quantities and sold as OxyContin, heroin, Xanax and potentially as lace in cocaine and methamphetamine.

In Edmonton, pills containing fentanyl can go for $20-25 apiece.

“You call your weed guy, he’s got other things. And amongst those other things are opiates. And not only are they widely available, but they’re also remarkably cheap,” Virani said.

“Not to mention the quantities that are required to keep a dependent population dependent are much smaller when you’re dealing with fentanyl or W-18 than when you’re dealing with heroin or morphine or prescription opioids.”

Fentanyl has been blamed for hundreds of deaths in Alberta in the past two years. Virani said he is “very concerned” that W-18, an even more toxic synthetic opioid recently found in Alberta, will become more prevalent.

The provincial government has said it will announce a multi-year strategy to combat the fentanyl crisis, but Virani said officials need to work faster and focus more on preventative measures.

“I’m losing my patience with how long it’s taking to contemplate a strategy when all the evidence is there,” he said.

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