As part of the surveillance related to the opioid overdose public health emergency, the province has confirmed through laboratory testing that carfentanil is present in the illegal drug supply in the lower mainland and being ingested.
Urine lab testing found carfentanil present in 57 of 1766 urine drug tests conducted from Jan. 10-24, 2017. Positive results were detected in samples originating from treatment facilities in Vancouver, Surrey, New Westminster, Maple Ridge, and Richmond. This is a limited sample size but does provide confirmation of the presence of carfentanil in B.C.
LifeLabs, a Canadian company specializing in diagnostic testing, developed the urine carfentanil test and has been testing for carfentanil in drug samples from across B.C. since Jan. 10, 2017. Carfentanil surveillance reports are now being sent weekly to the Ministry of Health and the BC Centre for Disease Control.
Health Canada has recently approved carfentanil testing in the Provincial Toxicology Centre, which provides forensic toxicology analyses on overdose fatalities to the BC Coroners Service. Through the $5 million in provincial funding announced September 2016 to support the work of the Joint Task Force on Overdose Response, the toxicology lab recently purchased a new testing instrument called a tandem mass spectrometer to help improve capacity, sensitivity and specificity to confirm new opioid drugs like carfentanil. The centre is completing validation of the new tests and the new equipment will begin testing samples for carfentanil in March.
Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid normally used as a sedative for large animals like elephants. It is similar to fentanyl but can be 100 times more toxic; one or two grains the size of salt grains can be fatal to humans. Carfentanil was found at the site of one overdose fatality in B.C., though toxicology has not yet confirmed whether carfentanil was the cause of the death.
There is no reliable way for people to know if carfentanil or other potentially toxic components are in illegal drugs. The confirmed presence of the highly toxic drug reinforces the need for anyone using any illegal drugs to follow harm reduction measures. This includes never using alone, having naloxone and a sober person trained in its use readily available, using an overdose prevention service or supervised-consumption service wherever possible, knowing the signs of an overdose and calling 911 immediately. To learn more tips to prevent or reduce an overdose, please visit: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/overdose/help-and-resources/tips-to-prevent-overdose
As a result of the overdose crisis, police have prioritized investigative resources to target traffickers of these deadly illegal drugs. Because illegal carfentanil, fentanyl and other opioids are coming into Canada from China, the RCMP and the Chinese Ministry of Public Security has committed to work together to reduce the flow and disrupt the supply. Enforcement will ultimately be stronger across provincial and international borders through collaboration with B.C.’s international and federal partners. Under proposed federal amendments to legislation with are currently before the federal legislature, the Canada Border Services Agency will also soon have new powers to inspect packages under 30g, which will assist with interdiction of small quantities of these illicit drugs.
For resources on the overdose crisis, please visit gov.bc.ca/overdose
For more detail on government actions to reduce overdoses, see news.gov.bc.ca/factsheets/actions-to-prevent-overdoses-in-bc
To learn more about BC Coroners Service statistics on illicit drug overdose deaths, visit: www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/death-investigation/statistical/illicit-drug.pdf
To learn more about the BC Coroners Service statistics on fentanyl-detected illicit drug overdose deaths, please visit: www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/death-investigation/statistical/fentanyl-detected-overdose.pdf
For data being collected by the BC Centre for Disease Control to support the response to the public health emergency, see: http://www.bccdc.ca/health-professionals/clinical-resources/harm-reduction/overdose-data-reports