Alberta RCMP, Alberta Health Services, and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner are expressing their concerns about the illicit use of fentanyl in Alberta. Authorities say the substance has contributed to more than 100 deaths in Alberta in 2014, a number significantly on the rise from the six deaths reported in 2011.
Police say illicit fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid analgesic produced in clandestine laboratories in pill or powder form. Referred to on the street as greenies, police say the drug is often sold as OxyContin to unsuspecting users. Similar colouring and markings make it hard to distinguish from OxyContin; however, police say Fentanyl is believed to be approximately 100 times more potent than morphine and 20 times more than OxyContin.
The RCMP and other police agencies have been seizing record amounts of illicitly produced fentanyl in Alberta communities of late.
Since April 2014 police have seized 10,000 tablets in Grande Prairie, 60,000 tablets west of Calgary, 3,927 tablets by the Sherwood Park RCMP, 36 tablets by the Innisfail RCMP, and 5,079 tablets this month by the Grande Prairie RCMP. An additional 14,000 tablets have been seized by ALERT in various Alberta communities over the past year.
“None of my police officers want to notify someone of the death of their loved one, especially when it could have been prevented,” said Alberta RCMP Commanding Officer, Deputy Commissioner Marianne Ryan in a release on the drug Wednesday. “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.”
In the same release Dr. Mark Yarema, Medical Director of Alberta’s Poison and Drug Information Service (PADIS) and Emergency Medicine Physician said the drug is not a new one.
Police say other drugs have been present in a person’s blood in recent fentanyl cases. These have included 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,” Yarema said.
Albertans can call PADIS toll-free, 24/7, at 1-800-332-1414, for a confidential consultation with staff trained in the assessment and management of exposures to drugs, including fentanyl.