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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Growing use of illicit fentanyl cause for concern in Alberta

Illicit fentanyl -RCMP photo

Alberta RCMP, Alberta Health Services and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner are concerned about the illicit use of fentanyl in Alberta. In the Province of Alberta, fentanyl has contributed to or caused more than 100 deaths in 2014 (as indicated by preliminary numbers), which is a significant increase from six deaths in 2011.

If anyone who has used or come into contact with fentanyl or any other street drug, becomes unconscious, stops breathing, experiences chest pain or has a seizure, Call 911 immediately.

Illicit fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid analgesic produced in clandestine laboratories. It can appear in the form of pills or powder, and is often referred to as “greenies” when sold on the street. It has been reported that this very toxic substance is often sold as OxyContin to unsuspecting users.

These pills are similar in coloring and identifying marks and can be easily mistaken for OxyContin. Fentanyl is reported to be approximately 100 times more potent than morphine and 20 times more than OxyContin.

The RCMP and other police agencies and our joint forces, Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT), have been seizing record amounts of illicitly produced fentanyl in Alberta communities and continue to do so.

Illicit fentanyl was seized throughout several RCMP jurisdictions in the last year. The following are example of some of these seizures:

· 14,000 tablets - April 2014 to now – various Alberta communities – ALERT

· 507 tablets - March 2015 - Grande Prairie RCMP (corrected)
· 60,000 tablets - November 2014 – West of Calgary RCMP Traffic

· 3,927 tablets - February 2015 – Sherwood Park RCMP

· 36 tablets - March 2015 - Innisfail RCMP

· 5,079 tablets - March 2015 - Grande Prairie RCMP

“None of my police officers want to notify someone of the death of their loved one, especially when it could have been prevented,” says Alberta RCMP Commanding Officer, Deputy Commissioner Marianne Ryan. “Organized crime is a driving force behind synthetic drug production and trafficking. Illicit drugs, such as fentanyl, fuels organized crime which in turn breeds other criminal activity throughout the communities we live in.”

OxyContin that has been prescribed by a physician can be taken safely in recommended dosages and under medical care; however, drugs obtained on the street – of any kind, including fentanyl – are never safe.

“Fentanyl is not a new drug of abuse. What we are seeing is the tragic reality of street drugs,” says Dr. Mark Yarema, Medical Director of Alberta’s Poison and Drug Information Service (PADIS) and Emergency Medicine Physician. “Simply, there is no such thing as a safe street drug; there is no safe dose; and, no one is immune to the risk.”

In a number of recent fentanyl cases, there have been many other drugs present, in a person’s blood, including a veterinary medicine used on animals during castration procedures.

“No matter what you think you’re buying, when it comes to street drugs, you really don’t ever know what you’re getting,” says Yarema.

Albertans can also call PADIS toll-free, 24/7, at 1-800-332-1414, for confidential consultation with staff trained in the assessment and management of exposures to drugs, including fentanyl. If you are concerned about your own drug or alcohol use, the drug and/or alcohol use of a friend or loved one, or would simply like more information on drug and alcohol use, contact the Addiction & Mental Health 24 Hour Helpline at 1-866-332-2322.

For more information about prescription opioids – including fentanyl – please consult this summary from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Information about illicit Fentanyl overdoses across Canada can also be accessed through this Drug Alert from the Canadian Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (CCENDU).

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