Liquid fentanyl found in Hamilton — believed to be 1st seizure in Canada

Police investigators in Hamilton announced Wednesday that they have seized what is believed to be the country’s first stash of liquid fentanyl.

The opioid is usually found on the street in pill, powder or patch form

Fentanyl is an opioid much stronger than even heroin. It has gained popularity on the streets in recent years. (Hamilton police)

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  • Health Canada says this is not the country's first liquid fentanyl seizure.

Police investigators in Hamilton announced today that they have seized what is believed to be the country's first stash of liquid fentanyl.

The incredibly powerful prescription opioid is usually found on the street in pill, powder or patch form, but this new discovery is another marker in a growing opioid crisis across the country.

In a news release, police said that in May of this year, investigators raided a home somewhere in the city where "various types of drugs were seized" — including a small container with a liquid inside they believed was GHB, which is commonly known as the date rape drug.

"Members of the Vice & Drug Unit were notified this week by Health Canada that the substance was in fact, a form of liquid fentanyl," the police news release reads.

"In consultation with various Health Canada labs, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, it is believed that this is the only identified seizure of fentanyl in a liquid state within Canada."

A more dangerous drug?

So what exactly is it that police have found, and is it more dangerous than the other more common street versions of the drug?

It's difficult to say until police know exactly what they're dealing with, and right now, the sample that was found is still being analysed, said Det. Const. Adam Brown from Hamilton police. 

Brown said that police can't yet comment on the concentration or the strength of what was found until that sample has been completely studied, but added that what they found appears to be "fairly concentrated."

Former opioid addict Nicole and Debbie Bang, the manager of St. Joseph’s Healthcare Womankind addiction service, explain prescription painkiller addiction. 3:57

Figuring out exactly what this substance is and what sort of potency it carries is necessary to quantify if it is "more dangerous" than other forms of fentanyl, said Dr. Norm Buckley, professor and chair of the Department of Anaesthesia at McMaster University's DeGroote School of Medicine.

"But the fact is, all this stuff is dangerous. End of discussion," Buckley said. "Are you more dead if you get shot or hit by a car? Same principle."

It could be that the drug that police have found is a pre-mixed liquid taken from a legitimate pharmaceutical source. Those liquids are used for injections in operating rooms across the country.

"If you drop that liquid on your skin, not much is going to happen," Buckley said.

But if this is a "hyper-potent Chinese fentanyl-like drug" — that could be a whole other story, he added. That likely could be absorbed right through the skin, and would be much more potent.

Deaths rise across the province

Cities across the country have noted fentanyl as a particular concern as deaths begin to mount. The painkiller is often used for cancer patients or people with chronic, searing pain — but it's also much stronger than even heroin.

Police and community groups have been warning of a looming crisis involving so-called "bootleg" versions of the drug.

An advisory released in August by the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police warned that 2016 has been a record year for overdose alerts and seizures of bootleg fentanyl. That refers to drugs that are not prescribed by doctors, but produced synthetically and sold on the black market, usually mixed in with other substances.

Then there's carfentanil, a synthetic opioid that is 100 times stronger than even fentanyl itself. That drug was originally designed to immobilize large animals such as moose and elephants, where injections become difficult or impossible.

As the danger has mounted, so too have the deaths.

In 2005, 18 people died of opioid toxicity in Hamilton. That number peaked at 34 in 2011, and continues to stay high at 31 in 2014.

By contrast, 18 people died in traffic fatalities in Hamilton that year.

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Hamilton home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.