Use of dangerous opioid on the rise

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With two deaths now confirmed, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health is urging the users of illicit opioids to exercise extreme caution.

Corporal Curtis Peters of the Airdrie RCMP said he was not aware of any arrests of anyone dealing in the dangerous opioid in the Airdrie area, however, local police have seen the use of fentanyl rise.

“The trend that we’ve noticed in Airdrie has been consistent with what you’re hearing in other parts of the province,” Peters said. “(Fentanyl is) a drug that’s on the scene that we have encountered, for sure.

“Unfortunately, it’s become one of the more popular synthetic opioid drugs that we’ve encountered.”

In Alberta, the legal use of carfentanil is limited to large animals. The opioid is 100 times more toxic than fentanyl and 10,000 times stronger than morphine. Just one grain of carfentanil can be lethal. It has not been licensed for use on humans.

The two deaths from illicit use of the drug occurred in the Edmonton area and in Calgary. Two men in their 30s died after using the drug. According to Alberta Health, until recently, toxicology tests could not determine the presence of carfentanil in the blood because of the very low amount needed for it to be lethal.

“To my knowledge, there are very few laboratories in North America that are able to measure carfentanil in human blood. Alberta’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is believed to be the first toxicology laboratory in Canada to positively identify carfentanil in human blood,” said acting chief medical examiner Dr. Elizabeth Brooks-Lim.

The identification of carfentanil as the cause of death in the two Alberta cases is a concern for law enforcement as well.

“It’s got no legitimate purpose in humans,” Peters said. “Fentanyl has a legitimate purpose. It’s prescribed by doctors, is used on a day-to-day basis in emergency medicine, but carfentanil, to my knowledge, is not to be used by humans.”

Alberta recorded 272 fentanyl overdose deaths in 2015, up from 120 in 2014. The highly addictive and toxic drug can be deadly in even small quantities.

“We are already in the eye of a deadly storm in fighting the horrific impacts of fentanyl in our communities,” said RCMP Deputy Commissioner Marianne Ryan, the commanding officer of the RCMP in Alberta. “We are now even more challenged by the arrival of carfentanil on our streets.”

Four people were arrested June 17 in Airdrie after a search warrant was executed at a residence and charged with possession of a number of controlled substances, including an undisclosed quantity of fentanyl. Fentanyl was also seized during a traffic stop March 13, and the arrest of an Airdrie man Jan. 29 included charges for the possession of fentanyl. An Airdrie man was arrested Sept. 30 and charged with possession of fentanyl, along with other charges.

According to statistics released by Airdrie RCMP, in 2015 police responded to approximately 18 calls directly related to fentanyl. That number is rising in 2016, with 23 related reports as of Sept. 27.

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