World’s most potent commercial opioid
MANITOULIN—The United Chiefs and Councils of Manitoulin (UCCM) Anishnaabe Police have issued a drug alert in partnership with the M’Chigeeng Health Centre advising the public of a serious health concern involving a drug known as carfentanil—a drug similar to Fentanyl but 100 times more toxic.
“The M’Chigeeng Health Centre contacted us and felt we should let the public know about carfentanil,” explained UCCM Anishaabe Police Chief Rodney Nahwegahbow. “We are aware it has been found in Hamilton and Toronto and are concerned that with the presence of drugs on the Island we could see it on Manitoulin soon. We both felt that it was in the best interest of the public to bring attention to the drug and the danger.”
Police Chief Nahwegahbow explained that carfentanil looks like table salt and can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled. He also said that it can take as little as 20 micrograms to kill a person.
“It looks like table salt and is a cheaper compound, so it’s being mixed with other drugs like cocaine, which has had a presence on Manitoulin for a number of years,” said Police Chief Nahwegahbow. “It’s a scary thing. It was developed as an elephant tranquilizer and the smallest amount can be deadly.”
“We started to see it in western Canada, but now it’s in southern Ontario and we are concerned it could be making its way to Manitoulin next,” said Police Chief Nahwegahbow.
Carfentanil has been linked to at least 15 deaths in Alberta between last summer and November, with Health Canada confirming the presence of the drug in Ontario in December.
Manitoulin was also ranked as having the highest number of opioid-related deaths per capita in the world last summer, a ranking that has since dropped to 15 but is still high and an additional warning that the deadly opioid carfentanil could have deadly consequences for Islanders.
“We have been keeping track of the drug and the overdoses out west,” said M’Chigeeng Health Centre Alternative Program worker Mark Forsythe, noting the overdose epidemic that has caused the BC government to declare a public health emergency. “We figured it was only a matter of time before it made its way over to Ontario and now that it has we think it’s only a matter of time before it’s found on Manitoulin.”
“Carfentanil is a synthetic opiate which is very strong and cheap, which is why it’s being used to cut other drugs,” said Mr. Forsythe. “Our main concern is with cocaine. We know that a lot of the cocaine in the area is coming from Toronto and carfentanil is in Toronto.”
Mr. Forsythe said that due to the strength of carfentanil, an overdose would happen much more quickly with the typical signs of respiratory failure—blue lips, low heart rate and breathing slowing down. “It would be the same as other opiate overdoes, but a lot quicker,” said Mr. Forsythe. “With Manitoulin being a rural area and emergency services having slower response times, this could be especially dangerous.”
Mr. Forsythe said that carfentanil is so strong that it can be absorbed through the skin, putting first responders at risk.
UCCM Police have begun looking into carrying Naloxone, a counteragent that blocks or reverses the opioid, with the hope that other police services on the Island will follow suit.
Island paramedics also carry Naloxone, as do the Manitoulin Health Centre sites and the three Guardian Pharmacies (in Little Current, Manitowaning and Mindemoya).
A government program has made Naloxone kits available to the public for free through Ontario pharmacies.
“The kits contain two vials of Naloxone, two syringes, gloves, swabs and a CPR mask,” explained Little Current Guardian Pharmacist Steve Bondi. “The kit is free to anyone who might want one on hand—a drug user, a bar owner, a friend or family member of a drug user.”
“Naloxone is a competetive inhibitor of opioids (such as morphine, oxycodone and heroin in addition to carfentanil),” said Mr. Bondi.
The MHC sites in Little Current and Mindemoya are also stocked with Naloxone and have implemented protocols to help protect staff.
“We have a protocol for staff to wear double gloves and masks when dealing with a patient who has overdosed on carfentanil because of the toxicity of the drug,” said MHC CEO Derek Graham. “We’ve made staff aware of any (carfentanil) protocols that have been recommended for Ontario hospitals and will add to it if any future protocols are implemented from the province.”
“Police are urging the public to exercise caution with the growing presence of carfentanil in our area and ask that anyone with information regarding illegal drug activity can contact the UCCM Anishnaabe Police at 1-888-377-7135 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS(8477),” said Police Chief Nahwegahbow.