And it’s not hard to get.
Global News, 680 CJOB and former federal prosecutor Bruce MacFarlane were able to find a way to buy fentanyl and carfentanil online using the dark web. On it, MacFarlene was able to be connected with a purported fentanyl dealer who went by the name Richard.
He offered to sell MacFarlene a kilogram of fentanyl for $2,000 and offered reassurances should the package be intercepted.
“We do overnight delivery with FedEx or UPS, the packaging is discreet and your package is coming from California, okay,” an alleged fentanyl dealer told Global News over the phone.
“What will happen if the shipment is intercepted?” MacFarlance asked the man over the phone.
“We also do re-shipment of package if the package encounters any kind of problem,” the man replied.
An estimated 2,000 Canadians died of opioid overdoses in 2015. While hundreds have died across the country in 2016, the Canadian government has not released the exact numbers as of yet.
To get the contacts, all MacFarlane had to do was access the dark web — an encrypted online network that can’t be searched through websites like Google.
He didn’t say exactly how he found the websites – he didn’t want to show people how to get drugs – but he said it didn’t take long to find several names and phone numbers connected to websites offering to sell and ship the powerful opioids.
MacFarlane suspects the brazenness with which apparent drug dealers will talk about their product shows how unafraid they are of being caught.
“They know that they can move very quickly, they change their website very quickly, they change their physical location very quickly, they’re ahead of law enforcement,” he said.
MacFarlane is currently writing an updated version of Drug Offences in Canada, a highly regarded legal textbook he co-wrote with a new chapter on emerging drug issues. Throughout his career, he’s worked as a federal prosecutor in Manitoba and Quebec, the assistant deputy attorney general for Canada and was Manitoba’s deputy attorney general for 12 years.
What police are doing
This shift in the way opioids are being trafficked across the Canadian border is presenting new challenges for law enforcement.
“These sites sometimes are registered as numbered companies and who really owns these sites at times is very difficult to prove,” Cpl. Scott Hanson with Manitoba RCMP said. Hanson is the head of the RCMP’s clandestine lab enforcement response team and a member of the federal serious organized crime unit.
Drugs like cocaine and heroin are typically smuggled across the border in large quantities, he said.
But the potency of fentanyl and carfentanil means drug traffickers only need small amounts to make large profits.
“Instead of having two or three… large organized crime groups moving in large amounts of drugs, you’d have a thousand… independent, individual people bringing in fifty grams or less,” Hanson said.
That leaves the RCMP and Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) looking for a few small packages in an avalanche of international mail. Drugs like cocaine usually come in large shipments coming across the border by plane, ship or vehicle, Hanson said. Fentanyl can come in a small envelope.
“The sheer volume of mail traffic poses challenges to law enforcement to try and track down which is fentanyl and which is a simple piece of mail,” he said.
In 2014, Canadian law enforcement seized 894 fentanyl samples at the border. In 2016, that number jumped to 4,009.
Because the amount of fentanyl crossing the border is growing, the RCMP are working closely with the CBSA to try and establish patterns of packages coming in to more effectively target certain areas within the mail stream.
“We’re employing new, different kinds of technology to try and identify these packages, we are certainly taking kind of a global effort towards this problem,” Hanson said.
Public health crisis
Fentanyl is a as synthetic opiate narcotic and used as a prescription drug primarily for cancer patients in pain. It can be 100 times more powerful than morphine. And carfentanil 100 times more powerful than that.
Around the country, fentanyl has been found in other street drugs like heroin and cocaine, creating an unknown level of risk for users.
Carfentanil and fentanyl are diluted with inert cutting agents like icing sugar before being sold at the street level to reduce the potency.
Exact estimates vary but one gram of fentanyl can be diluted into thousands of separate doses while a kilogram of fentanyl costs somewhere between $2,000 and $12,000, according to Health Canada.
A potentially lethal situation is created for both experienced and inexperienced drug users because there is no quality control process to determine how strong the dose is going to be.
WATCH: Fentanyl suspected behind country-wide spike in overdoses
“Certainly the introduction of illicit, powdered fentanyl into the opioid-using community has led to a likely increase in overdose,” Rob Boyd, director of the Ottawa drug treatment program Oasis said.
“But it being found in drugs other than opioids is concerning because people are not prepared, it’s not on their radar that this is a risk that can happen — plus they have a very low tolerance to the drug in the first place.”
In 2015 a young B.C. couple died after using street drugs laced with fentanyl, leaving behind their two-year-old son.
RCMP said Amelia and Hardy Leighton, who were described as hard working and healthy, were celebrating a new job and a move with recreation drugs. Both ingested toxic levels of fentanyl in combination with other drugs and died.
The family of the Vancouver couple spoke out about the dangers of fentanyl.
“Fentanyl does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter what age you are, what drug you’re taking, what setting you’re in, what gender you are. It can kill you,” Julian Brumec-Parsons told Global News in July 2015, following the death of his cousin Hardy.
With files from Tania Kohut, Rebecca Joseph, Adam Miller, Andrew Russell and the Canadian Press