Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada are deeply concerned about recent reports of an increase in overdoses and deaths in Canada due to the illicit use of fentanyl. A recent report from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse indicates as many as 655 Canadians may have died between 2009 and 2014 as a result of fentanyl overdoses. Health Canada's Drug Analysis Service labs have also been detecting fentanyl more and more often in street drugs being sent to them for testing by law enforcement.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug used primarily to treat severe pain. Because of its strength and the potential for side effects and addiction, it isn't intended as a first choice for pain management. It is available in Canada on a prescription-only basis, usually in the form of a slow-release patch. However, reports suggest that illicit fentanyl in powder form is being abused, mixed with street drugs such as heroin, or being pressed into pills and made to look like legal oxycodone, before being sold on the street.
When used incorrectly or abused, fentanyl in any form can pose significant health risks. Fentanyl is a highly potent drug and is many times more powerful than other opioid drugs. Abuse or misuse can lead to death, even in small amounts.
There's no such thing as a safe street drug. Even a small amount of fentanyl can have very serious consequences when not used properly. When you're dealing with a street drug, you have no idea how it has been made or what's in it.
It's also important that if you are prescribed fentanyl legitimately, that you follow your prescription instructions closely, keep your supply in a secure place and dispose of the used patches properly.
Health Canada is working to support provinces, territories and law enforcement on responding to this issue. This includes reviewing the prescription-only status of the opioid overdose treatment Naloxone on an urgent basis.
Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada will continue to monitor this issue and will continue to work closely with provinces, territories, law enforcement, and other stakeholders to help protect the health and safety of Canadians.