Police in Ontario are taking a bold step in the fight against the “deadly threat to public health and safety” from fentanyl, by joining forces with the Chief Coroner for Ontario for a two-day training symposium in Toronto for more than 450 officers.
The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) and Dr. Dirk Huyer will lead the symposium, focused on combatting a spike in deaths believed to be caused by the illegal acquisition, sale, abuse and misuse of the deadly pain medication.
“While not as extreme as in other areas of Canada, particularly British Columbia, Ontario is seeing an increase in fentanyl deaths,” Dr. Huyer said in a statement.
“It is my hope that through the collaborative efforts of our governments, public health, law enforcement, and front-line healthcare workers, we will soon begin to see a reversal in this alarming trend.”
Preliminary data showed 543 people lost their lives in opioid-related deaths in 2015 and fentanyl was a direct cause for 165, up from 154 last year and 86 in 2010, according to the Chief Coroner’s office.
Officers and border security agents will be trained on the “health and public safety challenges” posed by fentanyl, which Toronto Police Supt. Ron Taverner said is “critical to ensuring our people’s safety.”
“Our officers need to understand the dangers of fentanyl not only to themselves, but the people they serve,” he said. “We want them to be in a position where their personal safety is guarded when it comes to fentanyl and that they can also help save lives.”
In August, the OACP, the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council (WRCPC), the Municipal Drug Strategy Coordinators Network of Ontario (MDSCNO) and the Ontario Overdose Prevention and Naloxone Access Working Group (OOPNA) warned of the emergence of “bootleg fentanyl” across the province.
WATCH: Canadian government to take action against ‘public health crisis’ of opioid, fentanyl overdoses
Bootleg fentanyl is obtained either by legal prescriptions being diverted illegally or through the smuggling of bootleg versions of the drug from countries such as China.
Michael Parkinson, a drug strategy specialist with the WRCPC, said Tuesday the provincial government should be taking the lead on this issue instead of leaving it up to advocacy groups.
“You have to ask yourself Why are Ontario’s police chiefs and a crime prevention council issuing provincial advisories on bootleg fentanyls? These are really health issues here that cross sectors and all that but where’s Public Health Ontario? Where’s the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care?” he said.
“What we haven’t seen is an urgent, proportional and collaborative response. There’s no sense of urgency on the bootleg fentanyls issue from the Ontario government.”
A spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care said in an emailed statement to Global News that the government is working to “address the issue of illicit fentanyl being trafficked across Ontario’s borders.”
“That is why we are engaging with our counterparts in the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to examine ways to prevent these drugs from making their way into Ontario,” David Jensen said.
“Together, we will engage with experts and stakeholders – including the Mental Health and Addictions Leadership Council – to identify opportunities to strengthen our approach.”