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Highly potent heroin on Victoria streets prompts warnings

Aid agencies fear more overdoses; users urged not to shoot up alone

Extra-strong heroin is turning up on the streets of Victoria, prompting social service agencies to warn clients to take extra care when buying or using.

“There has been a rash of reports of strong heroin out there and an increase in the overdose incidents, both fatal and non-fatal, but it’s tough to say how many,” said Heather Hobbs, AIDS Vancouver Island’s co-ordinator of street outreach services.

Irene Haigh-Gidora, a manager at Cool Aid’s Community Health Services, said staff are hearing about extra-pure heroin, but are unsure about the extent of the problem.

“We have seen a number of overdoses,” she said.

The death of a 39-year-old man in late March is unofficially being blamed on a heroin overdose, and Rev. Al Tysick of the Dandelion Society believes there have been others.

“There’s a batch of China white or pure heroin on the street,” he said.

B.C. Coroners Service spokeswoman Barb McLintock said one possible heroin death is under investigation.

“We are awaiting toxicology results,” she said.

In the meantime, heroin users are being told to take extra care and not shoot up alone.

However, it’s a Catch-22 situation because, if an official warning is issued, some will go looking for the drug, either for a special high or to cut it — sometimes with unsafe chemicals — and make extra cash.

“If people know there’s extra pure stuff out there, they might go and seek it out,” Haigh-Gidora said.

That could be a particular problem if someone has not used for a while, she said.

“It could be dynamite,” she said.

The aim of AIDS Vancouver Island is to promote safer drug use practices, Hobbs said, adding the uncertain quality of street drugs underlines the need for a supervised injection site.

“Concern around the quality and purity of drugs is part of the reality every day,” she said.

Statistics from the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C. at the University of Victoria show heroin is not the drug of choice for most users in Victoria and Vancouver.

From September to December 2012, heroin was used by 34 per cent of street-involved adults, 19 per cent of street-involved youth and one per cent of recreational drug users.

Alcohol and cannabis were most popular among street-involved youth and recreational users, but crack took top place among street-involved adults.

Researchers found street-involved adults in Victoria found it “easy” to acquire heroin, while street-involved youth said it was “very easy.”

Heroin is the most expensive street drug and in Victoria and is selling for $200 a gram, researchers found.

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