Health Canada moving to ban fentanyl chemicals after alarming number of deaths

Fentanyl is one of the strongest opiates on the market today, 100 times stronger than even morphine.
Fentanyl is one of the strongest opiates on the market today, 100 times stronger than even morphine. (Photo: REUTERS/Drug Enforcement Administration/Handout)

Yesterday was International Overdose Awareness Day and the news from Canada was pretty grim: more Canadians are dying from fentanyl at a rate that has made the number of overdoses linked to the drug a “disaster”.

Health Canada deliberately chose the day to coincide with the event, to announce that they intend to make six chemicals illegal that are used to make the drug.

Fentanyl is one of the strongest opiates on the market today, 100 times stronger than morphine. In fact it’s so potent, that it is used for pain management after surgery and for cancer patients who are in severe pain. Unfortunately, when used for recreational drug use and worse when mixed with other drugs, it’s often lethal, even if the person is not a habitual drug user.

The worst affected province by the drug is British Columbia, although Ontario has seen a notable rise in the production of “bootleg” fentanyl. British Columbia has seen an alarming growth in overdose deaths in the last year alone, which sparked such alarm, that the government had to declare a public health emergency in April of this year.

The province recently reported that 433 people have died from drug overdoses as of July 31, 2016, which represents a 73.3 per cent increase from last year and Vancouver Coastal Health added that 62 per cent of these deaths were linked to fentanyl use. The health centre also reported that an alarming 90 per cent of drugs checked, within a month period at their safe injection site contained fentanyl.

Though Health Canada is now moving to control the crisis sparked by fentanyl use, it should have come years ago when fentanyl was starting to become a well-used drug in Canada.

The Canadian Centre of Substance Abuse released a report in August 2015 that looked at the effects of fentanyl has had in Canada since 2009, and the results were startling.

The report found that between 2009 to 2014, there was 1,019 drug deaths in Canada linked to fentanyl. Even worse, in the last six years the number of deaths related to fentanyl has substantially increased in the four largest provinces, which saw anything from double the deaths due to the drug, to over 20 times the deaths.

In the face of such alarming statistics about fentanyl, why is the government only acting now?

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