Toronto

Fentanyl's 'dangerous game': Used by accident - or on purpose?

An addicted fentanyl user from Mississauga says he uses the powerful drug intentionally, but Toronto police insist most cases involve people taking the painkiller unwittingly.

Man who's addicted to drug says he takes it purposely, but Toronto police say most street users do not

Man who's addicted to drug says he takes it purposely, but Toronto police say most street users do not 2:23

When it comes to fentanyl on Canadian streets, a key question is how often the drug is used deliberately and how often it's taken unwittingly.

The Toronto police drug squad maintains that in only a handful of cases does use of fentanyl – a potent painkiller more than 100 times more powerful than morphine – happen on purpose.

"It's not just what we're hearing from street sources," Insp. Howie Page told CBC News.

Still, one user of the drug in the Toronto area told CBC News that police have it wrong – and are being lied to on the streets.

People 'don't want to admit'

"They go a lot ... by what people tell them," said the Mississauga man, who isn't being identified because of the effect his disclosure may have on his employment and family.

"A lot of people when they get caught with the stuff, you know, they don't want to admit this or that," said the man who isn't being identified because of the effect his disclosure may have on his employment and family.

Police say that would mean some people are taking huge risks.

"If, in fact, he and others are doing that, it's definitely a dangerous game," said Page.

Page is confident fentanyl is sneaking into Toronto's heroin supply and the fear is it will soon taint more widely used recreational drugs like OxyContin and cocaine.

Antidote coming for first responders

The antidote to overdoses from drugs like fentanyl is naloxone, which temporarily blocks the drug from attacking the brain.

Doctors say it can save lives and some U.S. police forces carry them. Police in Toronto, however, do not.

Page said the police follow the guidelines laid out for them. "In this situation, EMS and the paramedics are the experts in the field," he said.

Some paramedics in Toronto already carry the antidote; by January 2016 all Toronto paramedics will carry it. 

Addictions expert Dr. Mark Weiss says that's important.

"The more first responders that are able to carry naloxone with them, the more lives we might potentially save," Weiss told CBC News.

Fentanyl has been pushed into the national spotlight following a rash of highly publicized overdoses

Health officials and police departments across Canada have repeatedly warned that modifying fentanyl patches — cutting them into smaller pieces to use recreationally — can be incredibly lethal and has caused hundreds of deaths across the country.

The patch is designed to remain intact to ensure the drug is released slowly over time.

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