State-of-the-art lab in Manitoba will better detect fentanyl-like street drugs
Acting chief medical examiner says new equipment means fewer samples will be sent out of province
Manitoba will soon be home to the latest technology available to better detect and confirm the presence of fentanyl-like substances in the province, according to the acting chief medical examiner.
"The new equipment we're getting is state-of-the-art toxicology lab equipment and it takes time to get that set up," said John Younes. "We have to also get standard benchmark samples of all of these drugs, like carfentanil, from Health Canada to set up our own testing protocols. I'm told that this will all be done at some point in early 2017."
In Manitoba, experts can currently test for doctor-prescribed fentanyl, but can't test for carfentanil and other chemical variants of fentanyl created in clandestine labs and distributed on the streets.
- 'It's scary stuff': Deadly drug carfentanil now in Winnipeg
- 2 carfentanil overdoses in Winnipeg, firefighters confirm
"There are a number of drugs that are called fentanyl analogs, which may or may not be related to fentanyl structurally, but they have similar effects," said Younes. "These are newer drugs that are being concocted in clandestine laboratories all over the world.... So, mainstream toxicology labs were not set up to test these on routine screening procedures.
"Now, they're having to add all these new fentanyl analogs and other opiate analogs to their testing regiment as they appear. It takes months to set up protocols to test each new drug as it appears."
According to statistics released by the provincial office, fentanyl was either a contributing or primary factor in 20 overdose deaths in 2015. That number is up from 13 deaths linked the drug in 2014 and 11 deaths in 2013. Younes estimates that number to be in the 30 to 40 range this year. He also expects there will a number of overdose deaths linked to the drug carfentanil.
Younes said presently if a drug overdose is suspected and routine toxicology reports come back negative, the samples are sent out of province for testing.
"If we can do all of the analyses ourselves here and not have to send anything out of province for confirmation it would save several months on these kind of cases, these complicated cases," said Younes.
He added quicker access to results will help families get answers sooner rather than later. It will also benefit police investigations and help identify trends in drug abuse.
Manitoba health minister calls for national data base
Manitoba's Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen has voiced concerns about the difficulty he's had accessing current overdose statistics for the province. He said the new lab equipment will help better inform police, front-line workers and the public.
"That's important, because we need to know not only how deep the problem is, but if it's getting any better," said Goertzen, while in Ottawa attending a national two-day summit on the rise of opioids in Canada.
Statistics from Manitoba show there has been a rise in the number of total overdoses in recent years.
Goertzen said the federal government has a role in helping keep up to date national statistics, not just for today, but also for the future.
"So certainly they, I believe, would have a role in housing the data, so we would have a national database in terms of those who have overdosed from a drug, not just fentanyl, not just opiates, but other drugs as well," said Goertzen. "So we can measure things on as much of a real-time basis as is possible, but then also see trends. See emerging warning signs that are happening with drugs.
"Sadly today it's about fentanyl and opiates, but in 10 years or 15 years from now I suspect that another health minister and health ministers across the country will be dealing with different drugs."