Tests confirm synthetic opioid 100 times more powerful than fentanyl found in seized drugs
A sample of carfentanil is ready for analysis at a DEA lab in Sterling, Va. —File photo
The discovery of deadly carfentanil in London is a “turning point” in the city’s drug crisis that forces people into a game of Russian roulette, the city’s medical officer of health warns.
“We knew it was coming, but it’s very concerning for people who are using drugs,” Chris Mackie said. “This is going to hit our most marginalized population very hard.
“It’s going to have a big negative impact, there’s no doubt.”
London police issued a public warning Wednesday after two drug samples seized in the city tested positive for carfentanil.
“I am sad for the effect this will have on the most vulnerable people in our community. Even for first-time users, it’s like playing Russian roulette,” Mackie said.
“We’ve been anticipating something like this and have been expanding the distribution of naloxone as well as having public consultations about supervised consumption facilities.”
Test results from Health Canada showed carfentanil, a synthetic opioid about 100 times more powerful than fentanyl or 10,000 times more powerful than morphine, was found in two separate seizures, one on Aug. 25 and the other Sept. 11, police said in a news release Wednesday.
“To date in 2017, there have also been 23 confirmed seizures of fentanyl, a 460 per cent increase from the five confirmed fentanyl cases in 2016,” London police Chief John Pare said in the release.
Only a small amount, two milligrams, of carfentanil powder can be lethal through inhalation, ingestion or absorption through the skin. The drug can be mixed with other drugs and cannot be detected unless tested in a laboratory.
The alert will be shared with addiction counsellors and people who inject drugs across the city, said Sonja Burke, director of Counterpoint harm reduction services at Regional HIV/AIDS Connection London.
“That’s an important piece for people on the street, that there’s proof, because rumours run wild.
“There’s evidence to it. That has much more power. We will tell every single person that walks in our door and we will push and push and push the naloxone.”
Naloxone is a drug that can be administered by needle or nasal spray to stop an opioid overdose.
It’s the best way at the moment to battle carfentanil, Burke said.
“What makes it so dangerous is people don’t know it’s in there. You can’t detect it by sight or smell or taste. There are no tell-tale signs,” Burke said.
“We try to just focus on what you can do. We want people to carry naloxone. Make sure your friends and family, everybody knows who you are with. If you go down or appear to go into overdose, you need to use the naloxone kit. Don’t use alone. Have someone there with you.”
The health unit has distributed more than 250 doses of naloxone in the community, “but for people who are using alone in their homes, it’s not going to help,” Mackie said.
He predicted that the rate of overdose in the city will rise.
Now that carfentanil is in the city, it’s one more reason for supervised injection sites, Mackie said.
He first suggested the idea four years ago and has pushed harder for a site since deadly fentanyl showed up and overdose rates ballooned.
The health unit is holding a series of consultations about opening a supervised injection site in London.
“Part of the opportunity there is the education and the re-orientation because people who use drugs are very accustomed to ignoring the advice of authority figures,” he said. “If just wagging fingers and saying ‘Don’t do drugs’ worked, we wouldn’t have a drug problem.”