Police, community groups warn fentanyl crisis looming in Ontario

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WATCH ABOVE: It's a drug so dangerous that even inhaling it can be deadly. And that's why first responders are being taught how to handle it – Jun 28, 2016

Ontario police and community groups are raising the alarm that a fentanyl crisis could be looming as synthetic versions of the drug appear across the province.

An advisory released Monday by the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council and other groups says 2016 has been a record year for overdose alerts and seizures of “bootleg” fentanyls by law enforcement officers.

The advisory says so-called bootleg fentanyls refer to drugs that are not prescribed by doctors, but produced synthetically and sold on the black market, usually mixed in with other illicit substances.

Synthetic versions of the drug include carefentanil, which is often used as an elephant tranquilizer, and W-18, a drug that has prompted warnings from police in several Canadian cities.

READ MORE: Police warn some street drugs being sold in northwestern Ontario may contain fentanyl

Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police spokesman Joe Couto says provincial law enforcement officials have seen an increase in the synthetic drugs in recent seizures, suggesting it is becoming more prevalent.

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He says some people may not see a fentanyl crisis as a law enforcement issue, but Couto says his group believes mitigating the problem will prevent both crimes and overdose deaths.

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Several other jurisdictions are also experiencing fentanyl crises, including Ohio, where last week it was reported that 1,155 deaths were related to the drug in 2015.

British Columbia’s chief medical officer declared a state of emergency earlier this year following an increase in drug overdose deaths, many of which were linked to the dangerous opioid.

READ MORE: Backpack full of fentanyl patches stolen from Ontario pharmacy: police

Michael Parkinson with the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council says indicators such as drug seizures point to a crisis being on the verge of unfolding in Ontario, too.

“Really, the feeling is that we’re sitting on a ticking time bomb and it’s about to explode,” he says.

Police, community groups and health care providers in Ontario are now looking to other jurisdictions to see how they’re handling the crisis, and plan ahead, Parkinson says.

Couto says police officers are constantly talking to their colleagues in other provinces and states, because they don’t to want to re-learn lessons other jurisdictions have already gleaned from the crisis.

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He says Ontario has taken B.C.’s lead in public education, advising drug users to be extra cautious because there may be unexpectedly powerful substances mixed into their usual doses.

READ MORE: Family speaks about young parents’ tragic overdose death

Taking lessons from other places is crucial because a fentanyl crisis isn’t confined by territorial borders, he adds.

“This is a Canadian problem. This isn’t just a provincial problem or a specific city’s problem. We are going to have people in this province dying if we aren’t being pro-active.”

Couto and Parkinson both say they hope the advisory gets people talking about fentanyl and helps make the issue a priority, particularly for governments.

“For us, we can’t just deal with the consequence,” Couto says. “If we’re called because somebody has overdosed, we’ve failed as a society.”

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