Health Canada says the seizure of liquid fentanyl in Hamilton, Ont., earlier this month was not the first time it was discovered in Canada, contrary to reports from Hamilton police.
Police announced Wednesday a liquid drug sample found during a raid on a Marilyn Court home May 26 had tested positive for the potentially fatal painkiller, after recovering a small container they originally thought was GHB or the “date rape drug.”
Police charged three suspects in the raid and seized a large amount of hash, cocaine, psilocybin “magic” mushrooms, ritalin, oxycodone, hydromorphone, synthetic THC, marijuana and cash worth an estimated $230,000.
Hamilton police investigators then sent the liquid sample to Health Canada’s Drug Analysis Service (DAS) laboratories and said after consulting with the RCMP they had determined it was the first time that fentanyl was identified in Canada in liquid form.
But Health Canada said Monday that not only was this not the first case of liquid fentanyl in Canada, but that the sample had been returned to police months before the announcement was made.
“In the past, liquid samples have tested positive for fentanyl,” Health Canada spokeswoman Renelle Briand said in an emailed statement to Global News.
“The DAS returns results to the submitting officer within the 60-day service standard. Depending on the circumstances of the case, the DAS has the capacity to complete rush requests within 48 hours.”
Briand could not specify when, where or how much liquid fentanyl had previously been identified by Health Canada in the past.
She added the Hamilton sample was submitted to the DAS laboratory on June 20, more than a month after the initial raid, and a rush request had not been submitted by police.
“On July 8, 2016 DAS contacted the Hamilton Police Services by phone to inform them of the result,” Briand said, which was almost four months before the announcement was made by police.
“The certificate of analysis was returned to the submitting officer on July 12, 2016 by Canada Post.”
Hamilton police and the RCMP did not immediately respond for requests for comment.
The Hamilton Spectator received an emailed message attributed to Det.-Sgt. Frank Mossuto that acknowledged the service was notified about the liquid fentanyl in July and that the discovery spurred “research” into the various forms of the drug, as well as an unspecified proposal related to anti-overdose kits.
Police said fentanyl can show up on the Canadian black market either by legal prescriptions being diverted illegally or through the smuggling of bootleg versions of the drug from countries such as China.
Global News obtained data from Health Canada late last month that showed fentanyl was found in 2,503 drug samples submitted by Canadian law enforcement agencies so far in 2016, a 43 per cent increase from the 1,749 drug samples submitted in all of 2015.
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Ontario saw a dramatic 35 per cent spike in the number of drugs containing fentanyl this year compared to last year, according to Health Canada, with 609 samples testing positive for the drug to date in 2016 up from 450 last year.
In 2014, more than 700 people died in Ontario from opioid-related overdoses, a 266 per cent increase since 2002, according to the ministry. The latest data from Ontario’s chief coroner for 2015 showed there were 529 opioid overdoses in Ontario — 162 of which involved fentanyl.
A Health Canada spokeswoman previously said the drugs analyzed likely represent a “subset” of those seized by law enforcement agencies, which would in turn speak to a larger number of drugs available on the black market.
Police said a lethal dose of the painkiller is estimated by Health Canada to be as little as two milligrams in a typical adult — the equivalent of two grains of salt.
Fentanyl is also estimated to be up to 100 times more powerful than morphine and police said the drug could easily be absorbed through the skin in its liquid state.
The opioid “public health crisis” has spread across the country touching almost every province, with several provincial health agencies rushing to implement new measures to battle the deadly drug amid increased police reports of fentanyl mixed with illicit drugs.
On Oct. 12, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins announced a new opioid strategy in the province to combat the increasing number of overdoses and deaths. The plan includes offering the opiate overdose medication naloxone free of charge going forward.