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Downtown Eastside 'benzo dope' issue worsening, says advocate

Last Updated Mar 9, 2021 at 4:01 pm PDT

(iStock Photo)

New drug presents a challenge around the province and Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

'Benzo-dope' is having a dramatic effect on people, renewing calls for government to step in and ensure safe supply

Harm reduction advocate Guy Felicella says the problem is getting increasingly worse

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The rise of a new drug labelled as “benzo dope” — fentanyl mixed with a drug called etizolam — is sparking yet another call for the province to step in and ensure a safe supply for users.

Guy Felicella is a harm reduction advocate and says benzo dope is having a dramatic effect on the people on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

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“I don’t think it’s a new phenomenon, I just think it’s just gotten increasingly worse. What it does is it adds another layer to the illicit fentanyl supply, and it has its challenges with people not only withdrawing from fentanyl but withdrawing from the benzos in the drugs,” he tells NEWS 1130.

He points out that Naloxone works on opioids and not benzos.

“Even when people are being brought back to life, they’re not physically or mentally able to actually function or move because of the saturation of benzos in their system,” he explains, adding it is difficult to get off benzo dope. “Because if you test positive for benzos, you need medical detox. You can’t just go to a detox facility that doesn’t have 24-hour medical supervision by nursing.”

Felicella says more needs to be done to ensure that the drug supply is regulated in B.C. because the supply is more toxic than ever before. He says government officials need to stop trying to change drug users and instead try to help them, even if that means continuing to use.

“[If] there’s ever a time that we needed to look at a regulated supply of heroin to compete with what’s out there right now, it would be now,” he says. “A lot of the people that I know, if they could have access to heroin, that they would definitely take that take that opportunity.”

Felicella says advocates like him have a lot of work ahead of them if they’re going to get control of the situation.