British Columbia

Stopping the supply of fentanyl won't be easy, experts say

Although a new agreement between the RCMP and China aims to put a stop of fentanyl flowing into the country, it won't be easy.

The problem is fentanyl is difficult to detect, highly potent and can be easily synthesized

Fentanyl can easily be shipped into Canada in small packages, some as small as a magazine or a greeting card according to RCMP National Drug Program Coordinator Sgt. Luc Chicoine. (CBC)

Although a new agreement between the RCMP and China aims to stop the flow of fentanyl into Canada, an expert says it won't be easy.

An agreement yesterday formalized a partnership between the RCMP and the Chinese Ministry of Public Safety to limit the trafficking of fentanyl into Canada.

RCMP national drug program coordinator Sgt. Luc Chicoine said the agreement caps over five and a half years of work between the two organizations.

"We've been working with China very closely for the last several years in terms of assisting them and identifying what our problems are," he said.

"What we have seen in China has been a shift. You have to remember that fentanyl is not a drug of abuse in China. So for them, they're trying to address our problems from their country — which is huge, way bigger than we are in terms of population."

Fentanyl is not a controlled substance in China but drugs manufactured for legal use can be diverted for illegal trafficking purposes.

There have been seizures of drugs enroute from China, which can also be easily ordered online.

Tiny and deadly

Simon Fraser University criminology professor Rob Gordon said the drug trade route between Canada and China is nothing new.

"We have had this great North American trade route, this North Pacific trade route in drugs and people," he said. "What is new ... is nobody really understands the volume of stuff."

A dose of fentanyl the size of a grain of sand can kill. (CBC)

Chicoine agreed.

He was unable to say exactly how much fentanyl was coming in from China partly because the drug is so difficult to detect. It can be mailed in a package as small as a greeting card, he said.

Gordon said it's added a new dimension to trafficking.

"Because it doesn't require a huge amount of volume to make a huge amount of profit, it's relatively simple to move the stuff undetected," he said.

"It's not like you're transferring bales of marijuana from A to B."

Manufactured anywhere with a lab

The second problem, Gordon added, is since the drug is chemically-derived rather than plant-based, it can be manufactured anywhere with a laboratory with the right chemicals.

"The fact that it's coming from China is a function of convenience," Gordon explained. "The chemicals that you need for the synthesis of the drug are easily obtained in China and might be more difficult to obtain here."

Gordon predicted other suppliers could easily fill the gap China leaves behind and the drug could even by synthesized here.

Although he called the agreement a massive symbolic win for the government in its fight against fentanyl, Gordon was  skeptical it will stem the flow substantially.

"It's one thing in the equation but its not on its own going to do very much in the long term," he said. "These guys are very adept at finding alternative sources."

With files from The Early Edition and On the Coast

To listen to the interviews, click on the links labelled How does fentanyl come into Canada? and Stopping the flow of fentanyl into Canada from China