This week alone, there have been two fatal drug overdoses in Guelph.

It’s not known which drugs caused the deaths – conducting tests and getting the results can take months – but nobody connected to the city’s drug scene would be surprised if one or both of the victims had fentanyl in their system.

Drug users and people who work with them say they’ve seen a surge in fentanyl’s availability across southern Ontario or the past year or so.

Often, the painkiller is mixed in with heroin or other opioids – and in a lot of those cases, even the person using it has no idea what’s really there.

One longtime drug user says he doesn’t understand why not all dealers come clean about their drugs’ fentanyl content – a revelation which could potentially save a user’s life.

Juice, as he’s known, is 41 years old. He says he’s been using drugs since the age of 14.

Heroin is his drug of choice, and he says he knows where he can get it and be sure that nothing else has been mixed in with the drug.

He also sees the other side – dealers who claim their product is pure, when the reality is that either prescription or bootleg fentanyl has been mixed in.

 “Their idea is ‘Oh, everyone loves heroin, we’ll sell them this and tell them it’s heroin,’” he says.

For Juice, the big concern is that the two drugs can have very different potencies. The amount of heroin he would use to get the high he’s after, he says, is far more than he would allow himself to risk taking when it comes to fentanyl.

 “We’re still paying the same amount of money – just tell us it’s fentanyl … and then we’ll know how much to use,” he says.

“Why wouldn’t you tell the person so they do it in a way that’s proper, that they’re not going to hurt themselves?”

One possibility is that a dealer might be worried that somebody looking to buy heroin might not be so interested in fentanyl. But Juice says that’s not a major problem – because most users are simply looking for something, anything, that can ease their pain.

“The addict doesn’t really care,” he says.

“He doesn’t want to die, but he doesn’t want to be sick.”

That bid to avoid sickness is what drives Juice’s addiction. When he’s not using, he finds himself vomiting, falling into cold sweats, and in severe pain. Heroin and other opioids provide instant relief.

Karen Lomax is an outreach worker with ARCH, a community health organization based in Guelph.

She says many of the drug users she works with are in the same position as Juice, taking drugs like heroin and fentanyl only because they seem like a better option than living with constant pain.

“If you’ve got a choice between having the flu and not, you’re going to go with not having the flu,” she says.

Another issue is the specific effects of the high provided by fentanyl. Juice says the drug leaves people pain-free – sometimes for as long as three days – but also very, very tired.

“When you’re on the streets, you can’t just be falling asleep wherever,” Lomax says.

In more than 25 years of using opioids, Juice says he’s only overdosed once – and fentanyl was the culprit.

With reporting by Allison Tanner