Fentanyl deaths on the rise in Ontario, chief coroner says

Fentanyl deaths are on the rise in Ontario, though the province's chief coroner says numbers there aren't as bleak as elsewhere in the country.

But drug isn't as pervasive in Ontario as it is in other provinces, like British Columbia

​Ontario's police leaders are providing an update on the deadly trend of fentanyl-related deaths in the province. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Fentanyl deaths are on the rise in Ontario, and the province's police services are concerned the worst may be yet to come.

The Chief Coroner of Ontario reports that Fentanyl was involved in 165 deaths in 2015, a slight rise from 154 deaths in 2014, but a marked increase from the 86 deaths recorded in 2010.

"Generally drug trends in Canada really migrate from Western Canada through Central Canada to Ontario," said Chief Bryan Larkin of the Waterloo Police Service.

He described the spread of Fentanyl as a "tidal wave," which has most recently swept from British Columbia to Alberta.

To better cope with the deadly trend, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police organized a two-day training symposium for more than 450 officers, which began Wednesday in Toronto.

Fentanyl creating new problems for police

Fentanyl overdoses have made headlines in the past year as the deadly opioid has become more widely available.

Police are concerned the drug is taking on new and, potentially, more dangerous forms in Ontario. Police in Hamilton recently seized the first recorded instance of liquid Fentanyl in Canada.

"To go to that next step, to have liquid Fentanyl seized is very significant," said Toronto Police superintendent Ron Taverner.

Taverner says the drug can be difficult to track down, especially in its more potent forms. The related opioid Carfentanil is 100 times more potent than Fentanyl, and a dosage of Carfentanil the size of a grain of salt is enough to be deadly.

Officers are now recommended to wear gloves and masks when arriving at a crime scene, both to preserve the scene and to protect their own health.

"The ways that we have to seize and manage exhibits, and manage drugs and process drugs has really changed,' said Larkin.

Fentanyl in Ontario

While Ontario's Fentanyl concerns are not yet as extreme as British Columbia's, the province's chief coroner, Dr. Dirk Huyer, says new statistics are reason for concern.

"We are seeing is a gradual increase," Huyer said.

Huyer says fentanyl deaths accounted for nearly 30 per cent of Ontario's fatal opioid overdoses in 2015, and one out of every eight deaths among people 18-34 in Ontario is now the result of opioids.

Statistics from 2016 are not yet available, but Huyer says his office is working to speed up its investigations and reporting so the province will have a better idea of Fentanyl's progress into Ontario.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to give data not just at the year end," he said, adding that those numbers will "help to identify if there are trends that we can see from the death investigations."