Fentanyl in food? Why safe injection sites are the right thing for all of us

On January 10, 2017, Matt Galloway of CBC’s Metro morning interviewed Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins on the fentanyl opioid crisis and noted that:

“….if our food supply was threatened by a food poisoning, then all hell would break loose and that you would have all levels of government moving in the blink of an eye to react to this but the stigma that exists around overdose has led to a sluggish response….[1]

Galloway made this observation after Hoskins said that the issues surrounding fentanyl deaths related to respect, dignity, equity, the right to treatment, the urgency of the matter, the effectiveness of needle exchanges and the fact that the people who are dying are our brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers.

So far so good.

But at no point in the conversation did Minister Hoskins answer the question that Galloway posed to him about the stigma of addiction. He only gave a myriad of reasons why safe injection sites are the right thing to do. ‘

Now don’t get me wrong. Hoskins gave all the right answers as they relate to persons with addictions and government’s role. But he did not answer why the crisis would be far different if the public was affected with a clear and present danger. He did not because governments and advocates alike tend not to answer those questions. The safe ground is to always talk about the people who are directly affected; the victims.

But the fact is that while Hoskins sidestepped the question of stigma for very legitimate reasons, Matt Galloway remained correct in his observation about government.

But perhaps he was wrong about food poisoning.

The food supply IS threatened.

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When antibiotics were first discovered, they became the miracle cure scientists and doctors had been waiting for.

Fast forward 75 years and antibiotics found a way into our food supply and it turns out that that was a bad thing[2].

How did it happen? The easy explanation is that like people, animals get sick too and react to good medicine the same way we do. The problem is that when antibiotics get into the food chain through animals, humans start ingesting those antibiotics and the next thing you know, diseases become resistant to antibiotics.

“A key question is, can antibiotic use in animals promote the development of hard-to-treat antibiotic-resistant superbugs that make people sick?  And if it can, are the illnesses rare occurrences, and the risks theoretical, or could current usage in animals pose a serious threat to human health and Metro Urgent Care.

Numerous health organizations, including the American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, Infectious Disease Society of America, and the World Health Organization, agree and have called for significant reductions in the use of antibiotics for animal food production[3].”


Now A&W advertises that its chickens are raised without antibiotics. One assumes that we should be very impressed that we can buy chickens that have not been drugged. What once sounded horrible is now an advertising coup resulting in greater market share[4].

So what else gets into the food supply through animal medicine and other means? And are there other marketing ‘home runs’ to be hit by food outlets that can market their avoidance?

In his article called “Prescription drugs or arsenic in your drinking water? Should you be concerned?” consumer writer David Schardt explains:

“Traces of 51 drugs have been detected in the wastewater that Burlington, Vermont, residents flush or pour down their drains and that ends up in Lake Champlain. Researchers at the University of Vermont and the United States Geological Survey found that levels of caffeine and nicotine in the water drop as college students leave for summer break, followed by increases in the relative amounts of drugs used by older people, such as diabetes and heart medications….. Burlington is not unique[5].

How does this all relate to fentanyl being the leading cause of opioid death in Ontario[6]?

I think you know where I am heading. Fentanyl is easy to hide and to smuggle, extremely small doses can kill, and it is already an epidemic. It would not be hard for fentanyl to get into our food supply in a variety of ways.

One way to think about it is to examine the morality of the people who make it and sell it. They don’t appear to care about the people on the street who are dying so do you think for one moment that they care about you? The answer is that they don’t.

A second way to think about it is to ask yourself, as you look at yourself in the morning mirror: “Why should I care?

Progressives would want the public to care and share a concern for basic fairness as the motivation for a call to action. But in this case it is not necessary.

You don’t need to be thinking about the cost of a government safe injection site where a person with an addiction can get a safe and controlled drug.

And you don’t need to be worried about the rights of the person with an addiction who is totally unlike you and engages in behaviour that is far away from you.

And it’s not required that you be concerned about the tragic loss of life and the effects on the lives of their loved ones.

All that is required is for you to  think about yourself when you look in the mirror and think how everything else got into our food supply. Why would fentanyl be different?

Now think 20 years from now when a large food supplier advertises fentanyl-free water and food. It’s just as crazy as thinking about antibiotic free chickens in 1940.

And that’s why you should support safe injection sites and immediate government action on a scale reserved only for an outbreak of food poisoning.



[1] http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/programs/metromorning/dealing-with-overdose-1.3928824

[2] http://consumersunion.org/news/the-overuse-of-antibiotics-in-food-animals-threatens-public-health-2/

[3] ibid

[4] http://www.marketingmag.ca/brands/aw-now-serving-chicken-raised-without-the-use-of-antibiotics-127975

[5] http://www.nutritionaction.com/daily/food-safety/prescription-drugs-or-arsenic-in-your-drinking-water/?mqsc=E3871714&utm_source=WhatCountsEmail&utm_medium=Nutrition_Action_Daily_TipsWeek%20In%20Review&utm_campaign=2017.02.12%20WIR

[6] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/fentanyl-now-leading-cause-of-opioid-deaths-in-ontario/article28832627/