By Greg Price
With reports of deaths involving overdoses with fentanyl gripping the headlines across Canada in recent weeks, Health Canada is proposing to move forward with plans to restrict six chemicals used in the production of fentanyl.
This regulatory proposal would achieve the intent of Senator Vern White’s Bill in an expeditious fashion, and add these substances to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) and the Precursor Control Regulations (PCR), meaning that their unauthorized importation and exportation would be illegal.
Fentanyl is a potent, synthetic opioid pain medication with a rapid onset and short duration of action. Fentanyl is estimated to have about 80 times the potency of morphine.
Fentanyl misuse first became prominent with the diversion of pharmaceutical forms of the drug, such as the patch. However, in recent months, the RCMP has reported an increase in domestic production of illicit fentanyl.
In 2015, there were 274 deaths in Alberta, associated with Fentanyl. In the first six months of 2016 there were 150 fatal overdoses in Alberta. Fentanyl is very toxic. The size of two grains of salt, can be deadly. Fentanyl is made and sold in many different forms and can be hiding in other drugs.
“I’m not going to be naive enough to tell you that we don’t have any fentanyl around here so far in our community. But so far, it’s been kept at bay,” said Graham Abela, police chief for the Taber Police Service. “It has been more of a concern, for example, for the Blood Indian reservation as well as the cities.”
From his experience in police enforcement, Abela noted people are not underestimating the seriousness of potential fentanyl overdoses, but the problems arise from the fact it can be part of other drugs.
“From my experience and from what I’ve read and been told, people who are overdosing from fentanyl, don’t think they are taking fentanyl, or they are taking a dose that is stronger than what they paid for,” said Abela. “It’s being laced, it’s being introduced into cocaine and it’s being sprayed onto marijuana.”
As far as plans to restrict six chemicals used in the production of fentanyl, Abela noted while it is a positive step, there is also a bigger issue to address.
“Anytime we have a precursor that is used in the creation of an illegal and dangerous substance, law enforcement is always going to say that’s a good thing to restrict the sale and access to those precursors,” said Abela. “But, our main suppliers are from Asia, specifically China. Until we can intercept the flow of those illegal drugs into the country, you can put as much emphasis on precursors as you can, it will have an affect, but it will not stop the flow if it keeps coming in from Asia. We have to have a multi-pronged effort, we can’t put our guard down because these precursor laws are in place. We still have to remain vigilant.”