Illegally manufactured fentanyl drives deaths in Ontario


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Illicit forms of the powerful opioid fentanyl have been driving increased rates of opioid-related deaths in the Canadian province of Ontario.

Of the 1,263 opioid related deaths that occurred in Ontario last year, 68% involved fentanyl compared to 45% in 2016. Illegally produced, non-pharmaceutical fentanyl was responsible for 78% of deaths related to the powerful synthetic opioid, which can be up to 100 times more potent than morphine. 

The figures were revealed as part of an investigation into the spike in opioid related deaths in recent years. In what has been described by officials as a “tidal wave”, Fentanyl has spread across Canada having caused four-fifths of opioid related deaths in the western provinces of British Columbia and Alberta in the previous year.

As noted by Chief Bryan Larkin of the Waterloo Police Service: “Generally drug trends in Canada…migrate from Western Canada through Central Canada to Ontario.”  Rates of fentanyl-related deaths have increased across the whole of Canada in recent years. While fentanyl was linked to 55% of opioid related deaths in 2016, that figure jumped to 72% last year. In Ontario alone, one in eight deaths of people between the ages of 18 and 34 is opioid-related.

While opioids have proven problematic in general, fentanyl is particularly dangerous due to its high potency and potential to produce respiratory depression. However, illicit fentanyl, which is often deceptively sold to unwitting customers having been mixed with other illegal drugs such as heroin or made to resemble prescription medicines such as oxycodone, has proven to be especially lethal.

More broadly the opioid epidemic has provoked intense reactions across the North American continent, as the crisis has incited an array of societal issues. While several American states have successfully sued OxyContin drug maker Purdue Pharma, Donald Trump has called for the death penalty for dealers.  Nevertheless, efforts are being made to understand the roots of the crisis, as opioid related deaths have risen exponentially in both Canada and the United States since the beginning of the 21st century.

Louis Goss