How do you cut off the fentanyl supply to B.C.?

On Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, opinions on how to solve the fentanyl crisis are as common as the haunting murals on the walls above the alleys where addicts shoot up.

RCMP say they're making progress on stopping the flow of the drug into the country

Murals warning of the dangers of fentanyl cover alley walls on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (Pete Scobie/CBC)

On Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, opinions on how to solve the fentanyl crisis are as common as the haunting murals on the walls above the alleys where addicts shoot up.

One image shows a green demon with an oversized syringe in its hand, floating over a man's body.

The dead man has a noose around his neck and a pool of blood around his head.

"Fentynyl. Tha [sic] devil stole your soul?!!" is spray painted next to the picture.

The artist is bang on. Fentanyl is stealing souls across the province in record numbers.

Illegal drug overdoses claimed more than 900 lives in B.C. in 2016.

'Ban it'

Many drug users believe the best way to solve the problem is to cut off the supply.

"I would start with getting rid of the fentanyl," said Irene Mountain, a 56 year old cocaine user who lives on the DTES.

"I know it's a pain medication, but people shouldn't use it for their own cause. Ban it."

"I think they need to work on stopping [fentanyl from] coming into Canada," said Kelly Lubbers,38, who uses crystal meth and heroin.

"I just think there should be more done with that," she said.

Police are trying to keep the drug out of the country but it's a difficult task.

"I think it's important to recognize from the beginning that illicit drugs have been with us for a long time and it's always been a challenge at our borders," said B.C. Joint Task Force on Overdose Response Co-Chair Clayton Pecknold. "

"It will continue to be a challenge. This type of drug, because of its toxicity is a game changer."

More than 900 people died from illicit drug overdoses in B.C. in 2016. (Pete Scobie/CBC)

Police response

In spite of the rising body count, police say they're in a better position to handle the crisis than they were six months ago.

"Our relationship with policing organizations, whether it be with Europe or in China or Mexico or wherever, where there is potential for distribution, not necessarily production but distribution routes, those partnerships are important," said RCMP Supt. Brian Cantera.

"We're hopeful that with that, we can work with international partners, share that information and intelligence and ultimately choke that supply off from coming into Canada."

Cantera says police are also working on developing new technologies to help them detect the drug.

"That's important equipment," Cantera said.

"We're making great strides in terms of putting those in key locations throughout the province, here."

China is the main source of fentanyl in Canada. In CBC's Fentanyl Fix series, we look at ideas of how to cut off the supply. 3:00

The fix

Public education campaigns have helped spread the word about the dangers of fentanyl, including to police themselves.

"Certainly, we're in a better position in terms of our frontline officers knowing some of the dangers which fentanyl presents," Cantera said.

"We've armed our officers across the country with a number of education pieces. There's the issuance of naloxone as well. Naloxone has been a big step forward and that means we're more educated on the totality of fentanyl and its impact."

RCMP officers have administered naloxone more than 50 times since October, saving dozens of lives.

It's not a solution but it's an improvement Cantera believes police can build on.

"Fentanyl is going to continue to be a very challenging topic for the community and I see it as an issue that is going to be challenging to deal with, even in six months," he said.

The Fentanyl Fix is a week long series exploring potential solutions to B.C.'s opioid overdose crisis. In 2016, 914 British Columbians died by overdosing on illicit drugs.