Alberta 'at best holding steady' against deadly fentanyl crisis, justice minister warns

The province is not yet winning the battle against fentanyl, which has been linked to 153 overdose deaths in Alberta in the first half of this year, the provincial justice minister says.

Conference for police, justice and health-care workers gets underway in Calgary

How lethal fentanyl 'hot spots' end up getting cut into street drugs

6 years ago
Duration 0:57
Calgary police demonstrated the difficulty in cutting fentanyl into other street drugs, which is leading to a rash of overdoses in Alberta.

The province is not yet winning the battle against fentanyl, which has been linked to 153 overdose deaths in Alberta in the first half of this year, the provincial justice minister says.

Kathleen Ganley made the assessment in her opening remarks as health workers and law enforcement experts from across Canada gather this week in Alberta to talk about the fentanyl crisis.

The synthetic opioid was detected in 274 fatal overdoses in Alberta in 2015, up from 29 in 2012.

Earlier this year, the province started making naloxone — which blocks the effects of opioids and can help reverse overdoses — available without a prescription.

And $3 million has been earmarked for Alberta Health Services to provide more counselling and treatment services.

"Despite all these steps, and despite the incredible work of our policing and community partners, we're at best holding steady on the problem," Ganley said.

"This is no small accomplishment, but we need to continue to do better for Albertans."

A white pill, broken in half.
Police, justice and health-care experts are in Alberta this week for a conference about the deadly opioid fentanyl. (CBC)

The conference brings together police, politicians, prosecutors, health officials and the Canada Border Services Agency to talk about how to tackle the fentanyl crisis.

Ganley says there are now 13,500 naloxone kits — up from 3,000 in May — available at 867 distribution sites.

Information released by Alberta Health Services on Oct. 4 showed naloxone kits saved 408 Albertans from dying of overdoses.

The budget for the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT) has also been increased by $2.6 million to help the organization boost its focus on fentanyl.

Pills can have high-dose 'hot spots' 

Attendees of the invitation-only, closed-door conference were shown a demonstration, using a fentanyl reprocessing lab, of how dangerously unpredictable the dosage in illicit tablets can be. 

Often fentanyl bought on the street will have "hot spots" — pills, or portions of pills, that contain higher-concentrations of the drug, Staff Sgt. Martin Schiavetta said.

According to Health Canada, a lethal dose of fentanyl for an average person is 2 milligrams.

"Some of the tablets that we've actually been seizing in Calgary have ranged from 4.6 to 5.6 — which is very high, obviously," he said. 

Schiavetti says fentanyl's high profit margin — a kilogram purchased online for $13,000 US can be processed into one million tablets, which sell for $20 apiece — has prompted organized crime groups to make it their prime commodity.

But what they're trafficking is very dangerous, he said. 

"Fentanyl, whether it be carfentanil, acetyl fentanyl, or 3-methylfentanyl, all looks the same. When you see white powder and you push it into tablets, they have no idea what they're producing, which is the real scary thing," he said.

The conference is being held at the Calgary Police Service headquarters on Monday and Tuesday before moving to Edmonton on Thursday and Friday.