Pubdate: Sat, 08 Oct 2016
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Nick Eagland
Page: A16


Health experts fear toxic carfentanil may already be in circulation in

The extremely toxic drug carfentanil has been linked to two deaths in
Alberta and may already be present in B.C.'s illicit-drug supply.

Dr. Karen Grimsrud, Alberta's chief medical officer of health,
announced in a statement Friday that carfentanil had been detected in
the deaths of two men in their 30s, one in the Edmonton area and the
other in Calgary.

Carfentanil is an analogue of the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which has
been increasingly cut into the illicit drug supply. Fentanyl was
detected in 60 per cent of 488 illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C. in
the first eight months of 2016.

Carfentanil is 100 times deadlier than fentanyl, 10,000 times deadlier
than morphine and is used as a tranquillizer for elephants and bears.

"An amount as small as a grain of sand could be lethal," the
government of Alberta said in a statement.

In June, Canada Border Services Agency officers seized a kilogram of
carfentanil at the Vancouver International Mail Centre bound for
Calgary. A 24-year old Calgary man was charged.

Carfentanil was responsible for two overdoses in Winnipeg late last
month, according to firefighters in the city.

Dr. William Schreiber, medical director for B.C.'s Provincial
Toxicology Centre, said carfentanil has not yet been detected in blood
samples sent to his lab.

The lab hasn't yet acquired a "standard" of carfentanil, which is a
pure sample used as a reference for analysis. "We're hoping to get
something soon," he said.

Alberta's toxicology lab is believed to be the first in Canada to
detect carfentanil in human blood and one of few in North America with
the ability to do so, according to a statement by Dr. Elizabeth
Brooks-Lim, acting chief medical examiner.

Schreiber said that while no carfentanil has been found in samples in
B.C., the "extremely deadly" drug could already be present.

"We've had situations where people appear to have died from an
overdose of drugs ... but when we do the drug analysis, we don't get
drugs coming back that would account for their death," he said.

"It is certainly possible that there are people who have died from
drugs that we simply couldn't pick up. It could be carfentanil, a
fentanyl analogue or another type of drug but we simply didn't know it
was there because we weren't analyzing for it."

Schreiber said his lab has seen many cases of people dying whose blood
has shown traces of fentanyl along with cocaine or methamphetamine,
suggesting non-opioid users may be unwittingly overdosing on fentanyl,

He warns drug users against trusting the people who are cutting such
substances into the illicit drug supply.

"It's worse than buyer beware," Schreiber said. "I think people are
playing Russian roulette right now. We've seen so many deaths from
fentanyl overdoses and it's just been an epidemic."

In a statement, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said
immediately administering naloxone can reverse an overdose of
carfentanil but multiple doses may be required.

Allen Pruden, a primary-care paramedic with the B.C. Ambulance
Service, told Postmedia that crews have recently used up to seven
vials of naloxone to reverse drug overdoses in B.C.

A recent investigation by The Associated Press found that online
suppliers in China are offering to ship carfentanil for as little as
US$2,750 per kilogram.

Carfentanil is not a controlled substance in China, according to the

An investigation by Postmedia in May found fentanyl and W-18 - a
research chemical also detected in the illicit-drug supply - can be
ordered the same way.

Staff Sgt. Darin Sheppard of the RCMP's Federal Serious and Organized
Crime Synthetic Drug Operations said no carfentanil has been detected
since the parcel seized in Vancouver in June. But police remain vigilant.

"It's obviously a concern based on its toxicity," Sheppard said.
"We're obviously concerned that it could continue to arrive."
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