The abuse of opioids is one of the most significant health and safety crises facing the province, says TPS Superintendent Ron Taverner, Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) substance-abuse committee chair.
Earlier this month, Hamilton Police seized liquid fentanyl, a highly powerful opioid that can be easily absorbed through the skin.
“Traditionally, it’s powder, pills or patches,” said Taverner, at a news conference on November 30. “To go to the next step, to have liquid fentanyl, is very significant.”
Earlier this week, Vancouver Police confirmed the first death linked to carfentanil in that province.
The deadly opioid, 100 times more toxic than fentanyl, is used to tranquillize elephants and other large animals.
“To put that in perspective, 20 micrograms of carfentanil is enough to kill a human being,” said Taverner. “It should be noted that 20 micrograms is about a grain of salt… Our message is simple. Get the facts on fentanyl, reach out for help and help us change what’s happening in our communities.”
Nearly 450 police officers and border security personnel attended a two-day OACP-organized symposium on November 30 and December 1 to be updated on the health and public safety challenges posed by fentanyl.
“Providing training to our frontline officers, as well as border security personnel, is critical to ensuring our people’s safety,” Taverner said. “Our officers need to understand the dangers of fentanyl, not only to themselves, but to the people they serve. We want them to be in a position where their safety is guarded when it comes to fentanyl and that they can also help save lives.”
OACP vice-president Bryan Larkin described the surge of fentanyl as a tidal wave and game-changer.
“Police in our communities have seen other drug epidemics and we have worked with our partners to manage them,” said the Waterloo Police Chief. “This, however, is a game-changer with the amount of deaths in Western Canada and Ontario.
Learn more at the Face the Fentanyl Website
“…This is not a policing issue or an enforcement issue. This is a public health issue… We are not going to arrest our way out of this crisis. The only way we are going to manage it is through a multi-faceted approach.”
Dr. Dirk Huyer, Ontario’s Chief Coroner, joined police leaders at the start of the two-day symposium at Woodbine Hotel & Suites.
“While not as extreme as in other areas of Canada, particularly British Columbia, Ontario is seeing an increase in fentanyl deaths,” he said. “It is my hope that, through the collaborative efforts of our governments, public health, law enforcement and frontline healthcare workers, we will soon begin to see a reversal in this alarming trend.”
Preliminary figures indicate there were 165 fentanyl-related deaths in the province last year, 11 more than the previous year’s and 69 more than in 2010.
There were 543 opioid-related deaths in Ontario last year.