Pubdate: Sat, 25 Feb 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Karen Howlett


Cabinet ministers and leaders of 12 cities pledge to work together, as
fentanyl and more powerful analogues continue to hit streets

Mayors of Canada's largest cities and federal cabinet ministers
pledged on Friday to forge a united front in an effort to thwart a
spiralling drug crisis.

Health Minister Jane Philpott and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale
heard first-hand during a conference call with the mayors that cities
are struggling with fatal overdoses linked to illicit fentanyl.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, chair of a task force representing
municipal leaders of 12 cities, said the ministers agreed to
strengthen collaboration to combat the drug crisis and to meet with
the mayors in the spring.

The commitment to work together comes as more powerful drugs hit the
streets, posing new challenges for government leaders. Carfentanil, a
powerful animal tranquilizer responsible for a spate of overdose
deaths in Alberta and the United States, was found in 40 samples of
illegal drugs in 2016, new figures show.

"The big problem is we don't have good data on which drugs are killing
people, exactly," Mr. Robertson said in an interview. "There's a lag
time with testing, and across the country there's totally inadequate
data on how many deaths and overdoses are occurring."

The figures, based on samples seized by police and analyzed by Health
Canada's DrugAnalysis Service, show that carfentanil was first
detected in July, 2016, in samples from British Columbia.

But by September, it had also turned up in samples from Alberta,
Manitoba and Ontario.

The figures may not be representative of the market because sample
sizes can range from a couple of pills to several kilograms, a Health
Canada spokeswoman said.

However, amid a dearth of national surveillance data on Canada's
deadly opioid crisis, the lab results point to a booming underground
market in fentanyl and its more powerful analogues.

The Globe and Mail has reported that the number of illegal-drug
samples containing fentanyl doubled every year in Canada between 2012
- -when dealers first began smuggling a black-market version of the
prescription painkiller into the country from China - and 2016.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said he addressed during the conference call
the need for more timely figures on opioid overdose deaths.

British Columbia publishes the number of fatal overdoses linked to
illicit opioids every month, and Alberta is planning to release data
on deaths linked to fentanyl every six weeks.

By comparison, the most recent opioid-overdose death figures for
Ontario are from the end of 2015.

"I am frustrated that I can tell you how many parking tickets were
issued last year but I can't tell you how many people died from drug
overdoses," Mr. Tory said in a statement.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities launched the task force
representing mayors of 12 cities earlier this month.

Friday's conference call included extensive discussion on the need to
expand treatment programs significantly for people addicted to
opioids, Mr. Tory said.

"These treatment programs, while sometimes controversial, are far
superior to people being left on the streets, exposed to dangerous
drugs like fentanyl," he said.

The federal government has tabled legislation that would make it
easier for communities to open safe-injection sites and that would ban
the importation of pill-press machines used to manufacture bootleg

In British Columbia, 914 people died last year of opioid overdoses.
Alberta had 343 deaths linked to fentanyl and its analogues last year,
including 22 from carfentanil, which can be fatal in quantities as
small as a grain of salt and has no known safe application for human

Most provinces do not yet have the tools to monitor the number of
overdose deaths owing to carfentanil.

Alberta's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is among a small number
of toxicology laboratories in Canada that can positively identify
carfentanil in human blood.

Carfentanil testing in British Columbia will not be available until
March or April of this year.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt