'If it's out there, it could arrive here:' Northeastern Ontario prepares for opioid carfentanil

Emergency workers are bracing for a lethal drug to hit the streets of northeastern Ontario after a patient in North Bay overdosed on what is suspected to be carfentanil — 10,000 times more powerful than morphine and 100 times more toxic than fentanyl.

Carfentanil 'doesn't smell differently, taste differently' from other drugs, according to health professionals

A patient in North Bay, Ont., is suspected to have overdosed off of carfentanil. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Emergency workers are bracing for a lethal drug to hit the streets of northeastern Ontario.

Carfentanil has already killed dozens of people in western provinces and the United States, but now it is being suspected of causing an overdose in North Bay, Ont.

A patient recently had to receive 60 to 70 times the usual dosage of Narcan, a drug that is used to counteract the effects of opiods, according to Dr. Jim Chirico, the medical officer of health and executive officer of the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit.

"It is a very serious concern," Chirico said.

"You don't know what's in the drugs ... This one [carfentanil] doesn't smell differently, taste differently. It doesn't look any different so for somebody who's using drugs they aren't going to know."

'Never been a scarier time to use street drugs'

The synthetic opioid is used to tranquillize elephants and not intended for humans, according to Chirico.

He said carfentanil is 10,000 times stronger than morphine and 100 times more toxic than fentanyl. 

"It's never been a scarier time to use street drugs," said Dr. Mike Franklyn of Sudbury's Harm Reduction program.

"I think a lot of people associate overdose and death with only opioids, but we're seeing now that it [carfentanil] could be in anything even marijuana, even cocaine, speed tablets."

Police have not confirmed any local cases of carfentanil in Sudbury, Ont., but they are reviewing their seized drug policy and procedure, according to Greater Sudbury Police staff sergeant Rick Waugh.

'Could it happen here?'

"We always take the approach that if it's out there, it could arrive here," Waugh said.

"I don't think we're naive enough to think that it hasn't been here. We just have not seized any carfentanil."

It will take at least another day for test results to come back from the North Bay patient. If confirmed, this will be the first case of carfentanil in the North Bay and Parry Sound area.

"We see what's happening on the west coast and we're no where near that, but we know that it's not that far away," Waugh said.

"Could it happen here? Yea it could, and that's quite concerning."


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