Nova Scotia

Province confirms first suspected carfentanil-related overdose in N.S.

The province's chief medical officer of health and director of public safety are warning Nova Scotians about the presence of carfentanil, an extremely powerful opioid.

Man-made opioid 100 times stronger than fentanyl

Gavin Wilkie said he’d like to stop abusing drugs, especially after the carfentanil-related death, but can’t break his addiction. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Nova Scotia's Office of the Medical Examiner has confirmed the first suspected carfentanil-related overdose in the province.

The presence of carfentanil, a man-made opioid 100 times stronger than fentanyl, was confirmed last week in a probable overdose death.

The person died in the Halifax area in early March. The exact cause and manner of death are not yet known and the investigation is ongoing.

Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, said if people are using street drugs, they should:

  • Never use alone.
  • Carry naloxone kits, which are available for free in pharmacies across the province.
  • Call 911 if an overdose is suspected.

Drug amplifies risk

"In the drug-use community, there's a lot of fear that if they call 911, police may show up and because they're using illegal drugs, then they're subject to police and the criminal justice system," Strang said. But he noted the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act protects bystanders from criminal charges.

Strang said the presence of carfentanil in the province "amplifies the risk of any street drug use."

Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, said the presence of carfentanil in the province amplifies the risk of any street drug use. (CBC)

At a party to celebrate Mainline Needle Exchange's 26 years in harm-reduction in Halifax, no one was shocked about the drug's first apparent death.

​"We always knew that carfentanil would make its way down here eventually," said Ashton Manktelow, an outreach worker at Mainline.

'A small amount can kill you'

Manktelow said they've seen carfentanil laced in drugs like crack, cocaine and even cannabis.

"I've never experienced carfentanil myself, but it's just a more potent drug and it's getting into people's hands who are much younger and don't know a lot about drugs themselves. Just a small amount can kill you," he said.

"It's sad to say, but it's only going to get worse."

Gavin Wilkie, 34, said the risks aren't enough to deter him from using.

"I'm an addict, right? So when I want it, I'll go get it. But afterwards, yeah, it is a worry. But at the time I don't worry," he said. "It's really scary, horribly scary."

'I'm scared for this community'

Wilkie said he tries to be safe, by using in groups and buying from the same person, but that's not a guarantee.

"There's no way to tell, unless there's a place you can get to test it, but other than that, how am I going to know there's carfentanil in my cocaine?"

Carfentanil is a man-made opioid that is 100 times stronger than fentanyl. (CBC)

​Greyson Jones, 30, was also at Mainline on Wednesday. He describes himself as an "off and on" drug user.

"I'm scared for this community," he said. "I think we need to provide access to safe injection sites."

Stigma from medical community

Strang told CBC News that the province is looking at appropriate models in urban and rural communities, and supervised consumption sites are part of those discussions.

But Jones said he still sees a lot of stigma around drug addiction, especially in the medical community.

Greyson Jones, 30, said he wants to see safe injection sites in the province. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

He said that leaves many people no choice but to turn to the streets.

"It's almost like fentanyl has become easier to get on the streets than a safer alternative. I've had my own experiences with fentanyl which pretty closely took my life, so I'm lucky to still be here myself," he said.

"It's too easy to go overboard too fast. Now more and more things like cocaine are being laced with fentanyl, so you don't even know."

Arrives from overseas

Roger Merrick, director of public safety with the Department of Justice, said most of these drugs come from overseas.

"Because of the intensity of the drug, very small amounts can be shipped very easily and could be very profitable for a trafficker," he said.

"It is a major priority because, obviously, the harmful effects it has on communities. The police officers want to stop that."