The Southwest Manitoba Health District has issued an alert regarding a potentially dangerous substance recently found in a seized street drug sample in Brandon.
In a drug warning first posted on social media last week, Prairie Mountain Health said a beige powder that appeared in the city tested positive for fentanyl and bromazolam.
Bromazolam is in the benzodiazepine family. Benzodiazepines, or benzos, are depressants commonly prescribed as sedatives. They can be dangerous when paired with opioids such as fentanyl, as the sedation increases the risk of an overdose, According to Health Canada.
“Our biggest concern is that it’s not an opiate…so naloxone doesn’t work on it,” Kunst said. Miran Hamm, a media officer for the Brandon Police Department, referring to the antidote used to treat opioid overdoses.
“This increases the risks to the individual using the substance as well as to first responders and anyone who may come into contact with those substances.”
Hamm said that when new material appears in Brandon there is little impact on police operations and responses, but it is concerning.
Prairie Mountain Health declined to comment, and instead CBC pointed to the province of Manitoba. No response was received from the county by the deadline.
Bromazolam is “very new” to Brandon, said Solange Machado, Brandon’s associate at the Manitoba Harm Reduction Network, and there are a lot of unknowns about the drug.
“If someone takes an overdose of this substance, naloxone won’t work, which is a huge risk for people who use the drug,” Machado said.
There is no rapid test for benzodiazepines
She said there was no quick way to tell if benzodiazepines or other substances were present, which increase the risks faced by people who use drugs. Manitoba test strips are available to reduce harm, but are only effective in detecting fentanyl in substances.
People can send medicines away for testing by visiting getyourdrugstested.caIt’s a free, anonymous service based in Vancouver, but it can be a time-consuming process, Machado said.
Since the drug alert was first issued by Prairie Mountain Health last week, there has been an increase in overdoses in the community, said Destiny Cathcart, co-chair of the Brandon Peer Advisory Board of the Manitoba Harm Reduction Network.
She said some substance users access drugs like methamphetamine without realizing they may contain a benzodiazepine.
Cathcart said the Peer Council is working with the Harm Reduction Network to try to keep people who use drugs and those around them as safe as possible.
This could include things like distributing harm reduction supplies, providing education to reduce stigma, and working to meet current community needs by connecting with people who have had experiences with street drugs, Machado said.
“We’re the ones using it,” Cathcart said. “You know, usually, as soon as we feel something funky with it, we tell Solange or… Try it and find out,” she said.
In the most tragic cases, she said, if someone dies from an overdose, the autopsy report may identify the substance.
“They have a need”
The council acts as a network of people who can help keep others safe by spreading information about situations such as the latest drug alert through word of mouth.
Machado said the people who use drugs who work with Manitoba Harm Reduction are part of the community, and they want to help create a safe and healthy space.
“It’s dangerous because … benzos is strong and most people don’t take it,” Cathcart said. “And if you don’t take it, for example, on a daily event… you’re an overdose.”
If people are taking drugs on the streets, she encourages them to “check in with each other, not use them alone and not close the doors.”
Machado also said that since naloxone is not effective for a benzodiazepine overdose, it is important for users to make sure they have a way to make an emergency call.
People who overdose will appear unresponsive, have blue lips and struggle to breathe.
“I get the question… ‘Why would people take this drug if they knew it could have these effects?’” “I think the reason is the inconsistency of drug presentation and branding.” “The availability of the drugs that people choose is changing day by day.”
This means that people may end up using a substance they are unfamiliar with, she said.
“They have a need that they need to meet, and they will use what is available.”