Anxiety drug increasingly found in opioid supply of overdose victims

Interview with Karen McDonald, Research Program Manager at MAP’s Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation


A class of drugs commonly used to treat sleep and anxiety disorders is increasingly being found in the illicit opioid supply, raising the risk of overdose, producing complex overdoses that are more difficult to reverse and rendering medications used to treat substance use disorders ineffective in some cases. Drug-checking services across Canada have detected benzodiazepines in half or more of samples expected to be opioids, with adulteration increasing significantly during the pandemic. Karen McDonald, the lead for Toronto’s drug-checking service, says that 20 of the expected fentanyl samples checked over the past two months were associated with overdoses; of those, 18 contained fentanyl and at least one benzodiazepine-related drug. She says her service is working with clinical partners to study the changing drug supply, but that an unregulated market can change on a dime.

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