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Chance of surviving an overdose depends on where you live, advocates say

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The day after one of his closest friends died alone in his bedroom from an opioid overdose, Brandon Bailey started sharing his cellphone number across social media.

The man in recovery for a substance use disorder from Windsor, Ont., has a message for other users: If you’re going to use, call me.

“I will come to you and make sure that you are safe,” Bailey wrote in a Facebook post.

Bailey, who is also a member of the Windsor Overdose Prevention Society, said he’s been frustrated by a lack of overdose prevention services like safe consumption sites in the city, and he wants to ensure the overdose-reversing drug naloxone is within reach for anyone at risk.

Since his November post on Facebook, he has also distributed his cellphone number on flyers.

“We need to be doing something,” he said.

The overdose crisis has devastated communities across the country and is being blamed for slowing the progress of life expectancy, which had risen three years between 2000 and 2016.

Opioids killed an estimated 9,000 people in Canada between January 2016 and June 2018, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. About 94 per cent of those deaths were deemed accidental, and almost three-quarters involved the powerful opioid fentanyl.

Access to free, take-home naloxone kits varies across Canada. (Chris Donovan/Canadian Press)

But access to overdose prevention services vary geographically, prompting some advocates to say that a person’s chances of surviving an overdose depends on where you live.

There are eight approved supervised consumption sites in British Columbia, nine in Ontario, six in Alberta, four in Quebec, and none elsewhere, according to Health Canada.

Supervised consumption sites allow people to use their drugs under medical supervision, and many sites provide testing for fentanyl contamination and access to sterile equipment.

Lifelines for people 

Naloxone is now available for purchase at pharmacies in every province and territory except Alberta, Yukon and Nunavut, the Canadian Pharmacists Association said.

Access to the free, take-home naloxone kits is more varied, with Quebec offering the nasal spray to anyone over 14 through pharmacies, New Brunswick giving naloxone to other sites like health and social services, and B.C. offering free access to people at risk of overdosing, those likely to witness an overdose and to First Nations.

The opioid crisis is more pronounced in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec. (Jared Thomas/CBC)

Jordan Westfall, executive director for the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs, said rural and remote areas are particularly underserved.

“There are large parts of the country that don’t have these services pretty much at all. These are lifelines for people at risk of overdosing that aren’t accessible to people,” Westfall said.

Everybody else in the country, when they take a sip of beer they don’t have to worry that they’re going to drop dead. We need to see the same safety for everyone in the country using drugs on the streets.— Jordan  Westfall

A lack of education and political will have been the biggest challenges to preventing overdose deaths, he said. Unlike other health-care decisions that are based on data, the question of allowing services like supervised consumption sites is often put before the public, he said.

“In a lot of cases, we’ve put human lives up for public consultation. That’s kind of a metaphor for how we treat the health care of people who use drugs, which is stigmatized in society,” Westfall said.

Supplying safe drugs

He said harm reduction could go further by providing a safe drug supply to users, since so many deaths appear related to drugs contaminated with fentanyl.

“Everybody else in the country, when they take a sip of beer they don’t have to worry that they’re going to drop dead. We need to see the same safety for everyone in the country using drugs on the streets,” he said.

Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has been at the centre of the overdose crisis in British Columbia, and it’s also where some of the most accessible harm-reduction services are located.

Last month, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart announced he would direct staff to look for a site where drug users can get safe opioids to prevent overdoses.

Sarah Blyth, co-founder of the Overdose Prevention Society in Vancouver, said supervised consumption sites and naloxone save lives every day.

On the day of the interview, she said, three people had already overdosed at a nearby safe injection site but they survived because they were surrounded by people who understood drug use and overdose prevention.

But Rebecca Jesseman, policy director for the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, said there are some good reasons for variation in available services: dominant drug problems also vary geographically.

The opioid crisis is more pronounced in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, she said, while Manitoba and Saskatchewan are more concerned with fighting a methamphetamine problem.

Health Canada says the federal government allocates funding based on the severity of the opioid crisis and the population in each province or territory. (CBC/Government of Canada)

Health Canada said in a statement that the federal government allocates funding based on the severity of the opioid crisis and the population size in each province or territory.

Jesseman said mobile units have begun providing support to places without permanent overdose prevention services. 

But beyond geographic variations, she said services often fail to meet the needs of the individual, especially as they relate to language, gender, age and culture.

“The system often looks at people who need help as being treatment-resistant, rather than looking at what is wrong with the system and how we can meet their needs,” Jesseman said.

“We wouldn’t accept this variation in service quality and availability for health conditions like cancer, diabetes and heart disease, so why is it the norm for substance use?”

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Health Ranger posts new microscopy photos of covid swabs, covid masks and mysterious red and blue fibers

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(Natural News) What follows is a series of microscopy photos of covid swabs (a synthetic swab, then a cotton swab), a covid mask and some zoomed-in photos of mysterious red and blue fibers found in the masks.

The magnification range for these photos is 50X to 200X. Most were taken with white light, but several (as indicated) were taken with UV light.

The images shown here are 600 pixels wide. We have higher resolution images available to researchers and indy media journalists; contact us for those hi-res images.

More microscopy investigations are under way, and new images will be posted as they are finalized.

First, this series shows the carbon fiber layer of a covid mask, illuminated with UV light:

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5,800 test positive, 74 die of coronavirus at least 14 days after getting fully vaccinated

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(Natural News) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday, April 15, confirmed some 5,800 breakthrough coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the U.S.

A breakthrough COVID-19 case is defined as someone who has detectable levels of SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – at least 14 days after getting fully vaccinated against the disease.

Nearly 400 breakthrough cases required treatment at hospitals and 74 died. A little over 40 percent of the infections were in people 60 years and above and 65 percent were female. About 29 percent of the vaccine breakthrough infections were reportedly asymptomatic. The figures were for cases through April 13.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told a congressional hearing on Thursday that the causes of the breakthrough cases are being probed. “Some of these breakthroughs are, of course, failure of an immune response in the host. And then some of them we worry might be related to a variant that is circulating. So we’re looking at both,” she said.

The CDC is monitoring reported cases “for clustering by patient demographics, geographic location, time since vaccination, vaccine type or lot number, and SARS-CoV-2 lineage.” It has created a national COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough database, where state health departments can enter, store and manage data for cases in their region.

Where available, respiratory specimens that tested positive for COVID-19 will be collected for genomic sequencing “to identify the virus lineage that caused the infection.”

Positive test less than two weeks after getting fully vaccinated is not a breakthrough case

The number of cases the CDC has identified does not include people who contracted COVID-19 less than two weeks after their final dose. The two-week marker is important, said infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

A human body should have enough time to develop antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 after that timeframe. Before then, a person won’t necessarily have the built-up immunity needed to fight off an infection. According to Dr. Adalja, cases that occur before the two-week mark are not considered breakthrough cases.

Dr. Adalja also noted that more research is needed to determine if highly infectious variants of the virus are behind the breakthrough cases. “It is crucial to study breakthrough cases to understand their severity, their contagiousness and what role variants may be playing,” Dr. Adalja said.

More than 78 million people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in the U.S. as of April 15.

“To date, no unexpected patterns have been identified in case demographics or vaccine characteristics,” the CDC said in a statement. “COVID-19 vaccines are effective and are a critical tool to bring the pandemic under control.”

But the CDC conceded that “thousands of vaccine breakthrough cases will occur even though the vaccine is working as expected.”

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, agreed with the CDC. “These vaccines that we’re using are fabulous but they’re not perfect,” he said. “At best, they’re 95 percent effective in preventing serious illness, but minor illnesses can occur.”

According to U.S. drug regulators, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is 95 percent effective in preventing infection. Moderna’s was shown in a clinical trial to be 94.1 percent effective while Johnson & Johnson’s was 66.9 percent effective. Only Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which received its emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Feb. 27, was tested when variants were circulating.

The percentages are based on results from vaccine recipients two weeks after the final vaccination.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated in a briefing last week that the breakthrough cases are not a cause for concern.

“I think the important thing is to look at what the denominator of vaccinated people is. Because it is very likely that the number of breakthrough cases is not at all incompatible with the 90-plus percent vaccine efficacy,” he said. “So I don’t think that there needs to be concern about any shift or change in the efficacy of the vaccine.”

More info needed before drawing conclusions from breakthrough cases

The percentage of vaccine breakthroughs in a population depends on multiple factors, including vaccine efficacy, the amount of virus circulating and the length of time since vaccination, according to Natalie Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida.

“I love to see small numbers as much as anyone, but know that numbers like this cannot be directly interpreted as a measure of vaccine efficacy (although I have a feeling they will be). We can only interpret them against a background rate in unvaccinated people,” Dean wrote on Twitter.

“Similarly, ‘most breakthroughs have been in elderly adults’ should not be read as the vaccine is less effective in elderly adults. The majority of vaccinations (and the longest amount of follow-up time) have been in elderly adults. Again, we need more info to interpret.”

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More people died from fentanyl overdose than coronavirus in San Francisco last year

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(Natural News) More people died from fentanyl overdose than coronavirus (COVID-19) in San Francisco last year, a microcosm of a larger nationwide problem coinciding with the pandemic.

Data from San Francisco’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner shows that 708 people were killed by fentanyl in 2020, an astonishing 118 times more since the introduction of the drug in the city just five years earlier.

That figure nearly tripled the 254 COVID-19 deaths recorded in the city for the whole of last year. More than 8 in 10 deaths were male, and just under half were white. People aged 55 to 64 made up nearly a quarter of the fatalities. Nearly 40 percent of the deaths occurred in open-air drug markets such as the Tenderloin and South of Market.

The number of overdose deaths in the city could have been far worse as more than 3,000 addicts suffering from an overdose were administered with naloxone, the lifesaving medication that reverses overdoses.

San Francisco’s death rate from fentanyl overdose continues to rise this year as 135 died by overdose in January and February, putting the city on pace for more than 800 deaths by the end of the year.

The city has become a significant part of a larger trend. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data on Wednesday, April 14, showing that more than 87,000 Americans died from drug overdose over the 12-month period that ended in September last year – the highest since the opioid epidemic began in the 1990s.

Lockdowns lead to more cases of drug overdose

The surge represents an increasingly urgent public health crisis that may be correlated to the government’s monotonous battle plan against the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 19 last year, California became the first state in the U.S. to implement a stay-at-home order. It subsequently endured the longest lockdown of any state in the country.

The pandemic and accompanying lockdowns are believed to be partly responsible for the soaring number of drug deaths for obvious reasons. Lockdowns have badly disrupted the social services in the city, including drug addiction treatment. Drug experts say the isolation of the past 12 months is causing vulnerable residents to turn to opioids.

“We see the death and devastation getting worse right in front of us,” said Matt Haney, San Francisco Board of Supervisors member. “It’s an unprecedented spiraling, directly connected to the introduction of fentanyl in our city.”

Fentanyl first appeared on the streets of San Francisco in 2015. There were just six deaths from the synthetic opioid that year, 12 deaths in 2016 and 37 deaths in 2017. The figure skyrocketed when the drugs became widely available in the city in 2018.

Kristen Marshall, manager of the national drug harm reduction DOPE Project, noted the grim irony that while social isolation could save lives from COVID-19, it had undoubtedly contributed to the number of overdose deaths.

“Isolation is also the thing that puts people at the absolute highest risk of overdose death,” she said.

Pandemic exacerbates rise in deaths from drug overdose

The number of deaths from drug overdose started rising in the months leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, making it hard to gauge how closely the two phenomena are linked. But the pandemic unquestionably exacerbated the trend. The biggest jump in overdose deaths took place in April and May when fear and stress were rampant, job losses were multiplying and the strictest lockdown measures were in effect.

Many treatment programs closed during that time while drop-in centers, which provide support, clean syringes and naloxone, cut back services.

The data released by the CDC shows a 29 percent rise in overdose deaths from October 2019 through September 2020 compared with the previous 12-month period. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and other synthetic opioids were the primary drivers, although many fatal overdoses have also involved stimulant drugs like methamphetamine.

Unlike in the early years of the opioid epidemic, when deaths were largely among white Americans in rural and suburban areas, the current crisis is affecting Black Americans disproportionately.

“The highest increase in mortality from opioids, predominantly driven by fentanyl, is now among Black Americans,” Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said at a national addiction conference last week.

“And when you look at mortality from methamphetamine, it’s chilling to realize that the risk of dying from methamphetamine overdose is 12-fold higher among American Indians and Alaskan Natives than other groups.”

Dr. Volkow added that more deaths than ever involved drug combinations, typically of fentanyl or heroin with stimulants.

“Dealers are lacing these non-opioid drugs with cheaper, yet potent, opioids to make a larger profit,” she said. “Someone who’s addicted to a stimulant drug like cocaine or methamphetamine is not tolerant to opioids, which means they are going to be at high risk of overdose if they get a stimulant drug that’s laced with an opioid like fentanyl.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) supported Dr. Volkow’s claim, saying that transnational criminal organizations cause a spike in overdoses by mixing fentanyl into illicit narcotics.

According to the DEA, Mexican cartels often purchase the drug components in China and use human mules to smuggle the narcotics to lucrative drug markets north of the border.

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