Asia is hurtling towards a fentanyl disaster

A fentanyl user displays a 'safe supply' of opioid alternatives, including morphine pills in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, 6 April 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Jesse Winter).

Author: Pascal Tanguay, Bangkok

In May 2020, authorities in Myanmar seized a whopping 3700 litres of liquid fentanyl — equivalent to about 30 bathtubs’ worth — alongside other drugs, precursors and weaponry. The lethal drug is increasingly being found cut into common illicit substances as the opioid epidemic rages in North America and Europe. 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, its growing presence in Asian illicit drug markets will likely prove disastrous.

In 2017, the opioid epidemic claimed the lives of more than 70,000 Americans and close to 4000 Canadians. Opioid overdose is the leading cause of unintentional injury and death in the United States. North America accounts for around a quarter of all opioid users worldwide and just below 10 per cent of all opiate users, a subset of opioid users, globally.

Estimates place the number of people who inject drugs (generally opioids) at around 2.5 million across North America, or about 16 per cent of all injectors across the globe. But in North America, community-based harm reduction services are comprehensive and widely available and take-home naloxone programs are in place.

Asia, in contrast, is home to 55 per cent of the world’s opioid users and nearly 75 per cent of opiate users globally. The five million injectors who live in the region account for nearly a third of all injectors globally. Only two out of 25 countries — Afghanistan and India — have established take-home naloxone services. Harm reduction services are generally in place, but coverage is extremely poor, service availability is …continue reading