Metro Morning

Get 'ready' to deal with a fentanyl crisis, Vancouver's mayor tells John Tory

Toronto Mayor John Tory says he offered help to Vancouver, which is in the midst of a drug overdose crisis, and he received some timely advice instead. "Be ready" for fentanyl.

Toronto to hold meeting next Monday to come up with a plan to deal with the deadly drug

Toronto Mayor John Tory, right, offered to help Vancouver's Mayor Gregor Robertson, left, during that city's fentanyl crisis. Instead, he was given a stark warning. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Toronto Mayor John Tory says he offered help to Vancouver, which is in the midst of a drug overdose crisis, and he received some timely advice instead.

"Be ready" for fentanyl, Tory was told.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is behind an alarming number of deaths in B.C. In November 2016, four British Columbians died from drug overdoses each day. In that month alone, 128 people died, with officials saying an increasing number of the overdose deaths are due to fentanyl.

Tory said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson gave him a warning.

"Be ready. That was the number one piece of advice that Mayor Robertson had for me," Tory told Metro Morning on Friday.

"It hasn't yet come. These drug patterns over the years come from west to east in Canada. It hasn't really come here to the same degree as it has in Vancouver."

Vancouver firefighters Jason Lynch and Jay Jakubec try to revive an addict who overdosed on fentanyl in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. (CBC)

Toronto police seized more than three kilograms of fentanyl last year, compared to a third of a kilogram in 2015. 

Paramedics in the city administered 161 doses of naloxone — an injectable opioid overdose antidote — last year compared to 109 doses in 2015 and 110 in 2014.

"The number of paramedics now carrying naloxone has increased per the Ministry of Health in Ontario as have the protocols for administering it which may impact the current and historical statistics," said Kim McKinnon, spokesperson for Toronto Paramedic Services, in an email to CBC News.

Anecdotally, front line workers are seeing more opiod overdoses amongst their clients in the community, according to Toronto Public Health.

People carry a coffin to remember friends, family and community members who died as a result of overdoses, during a procession to mark Overdose Awareness Day in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday August 31, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Robertson told Tory that there isn't much Toronto can do to help Vancouver but it can help itself by developing a strategy about how to deal with fentanyl now.

Tory plans to meet Monday with several municipal groups to draft a plan to deal with the drug, which far stronger than heroin.

"If you think about those numbers you just recited, four people a day, if that was going on with regards to a disease, like a SARS-type thing that we experienced many years ago, or even what we have seen with pedestrian traffic deaths, we would be saying, 'Well, we've got to do more than what we're doing,'" Tory said.

Monday meeting's will build on work already done by Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the city's medical acting officer of health, and Coun. Joe Cressy, who runs the city's drug strategy. The meeting will look at the status of the problem and develop an action plan for Toronto.

Not confined to the west

"It's one of those things that I think can sneak up on you," Tory warned.

Robertson told Tory the fentanyl problem has spread from drug addicts to more recreational drug users and the crisis has deepened because of the inadequate treatment facilities for people with addiction issues. 

"People are losing their lives," Tory said. "This is not confined to the West."

The meeting on Monday will include representatives from the Ontario coroner's office, Toronto Police Service, Toronto Paramedic Services, Toronto Public Health, community groups, community service providers and the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction. It's being hosted by public health officials.

"I want us to be ready if it comes east," he said.