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B.C. health ministry says drug users testing positive for opioid carfentanil

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February 01, 2017 - 8:30 PM

VICTORIA - B.C.'s Health Ministry has confirmed illicit drug users in Metro Vancouver are ingesting a deadly synthetic opioid typically used as an elephant tranquilizer.

The ministry says a small number of urine tests conducted over a two-week period at treatment facilities across Metro Vancouver tested positive for carfentanil.

It says one or two grains of the drug can be fatal and that it is 100 times more toxic than fentanyl, the drug at the root of the province's overdose crisis.

The tests were done on 1,766 urine samples and showed 57 of those were positive for carfentanil.

"This is a limited sample size but does provide confirmation of the presence of carfentanil in B.C.," says a statement from the ministry.

There is no reliable way for people to know if carfentanil is laced with other illicit drugs, and the health ministry is urging users to follow harm reduction measures such as having someone sober present and carrying the opioid antidote naloxone.

The drug testing is part of surveillance measures related to the public health emergency declared last April in the province response to the crisis. There were 914 illicit drug overdoses last year in B.C., the highest number on record.

The ministry says it is getting weekly surveillance reports on carfentanil and police are continuing to prioritize investigations into drug trafficking because of the overdose crisis.

The RCMP and Chinese Ministry of Public Security have partnered to disrupt the supply of illegal carfentanil, fentanyl and other opioids coming into Canada from China.

"Enforcement will ultimately be stronger across provincial and international borders through collaboration with B.C.’s international and federal partners," the health ministry says.

The Provincial Toxicology Centre, which provides forensic analysis on overdose fatalities to the coroner, recently bought new instruments that are more sensitive and accurate in testing for carfentanil and other opioids, and regular testing is expected to begin next month.

The ministry says carfentanil was already found at the site of one overdose fatality in the province, but results are still pending on whether it was the cause of the death.

The total number of fentanyl-related overdose deaths for 2016 is expected to be updated in March, however previous data shows the substance was detected in about 60 per cent of deaths between January and October.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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