KAMLOOPS, B.C. – British Columbia Home Health Authority warns street drug users of a synthetic cannabinoid linked to a "zombie" outbreak in New York.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Trevor Corneil says that testing on a Kamloops overdose prevention site found the powerful drug mixed with heroin, fentanyl and caffeine.
The Authority warns that users may look like they have overdosed on opioids, but they will not respond to naloxone and they may experience "fast" or "trippy" symptoms with possible hallucinations.
An article from the New England Journal of Medicine in 2017 says the drug caused a mass poisoning of 33 people in New York City in July 2016 and is described in the media as a "zombie" outbreak due to the appearance of those who took the drug.
The newspaper article says that the drug was developed by Pfizer 2009 and it is a strong depressive, which accounts for the "zombie-like" behavior reported in New York.
Corneil says they do not like to use the zombie period because it can give people the wrong impression and what is important is that they are cautious when new substances come on the black market.
Corneil says they are not aware of any deaths where the cannabinoid is the only substance.
"Often overdosed deaths are caused by a mixture of different substances together and we do not see any increase in overdose deaths related to this substance over the effect of fentanyl, which is the main toxin we have in our drug supply right now."
Corneil says that the discovery of the drug is a good example of the level of sophistication that both injury workers and users have been able to access in the province.
"This is the problem of criminalization because it removes some of the safeguards introduced by the system to ensure people get the product they think they are buying and it has not been mixed with anything else."
He says the workers see that the users become more aware that they must have their illegal drugs tested and when they learn what is in their drugs, they make better decisions.
The test machines at safe locations look at a large database of drugs, which Corneil says is used for both research and police.
"Many of them are rare and rare and we find that manufacturers and suppliers are constantly trying to create new ones … trying to make a buck of people who are quite marginalized by the criminalized environment around them."