The Winnipeg police department has confirmed that the 1,477 blotter tabs they seized at a hotel earlier this month contains carfentanil—the synthetic opioid far more powerful than fentanyl that's used to tranquilize large animals such as elephants and moose.
It's the first time the drug, so potent that even the equivalent of a grain of salt can be fatal, has been found in the city, which has recently seen a rash of opioid-related overdoses. A 37-year-old Winnipeg man has been charged with a number of drug crimes stemming from the seizure and is still being held in custody.
"It's scary stuff and we're concerned," Danny Smyth, the city's deputy police chief, told reporters on Thursday. He was flanked by the medical officer for the city's health authority and Arlene Last-Kolb, a Winnipeg mother who lost her son to a fentanyl overdose in 2014.
According to numbers provided exclusively to VICE News by the Winnipeg Police, fentanyl seizures in the city have risen since 2013. There was one seizure that year and the following year. The force had eight fentanyl seizures in 2015, and seven so far this year.
Smyth added that the blotter tablets that had carfentanil infused onto them are similar to the way LSD used to be distributed.
"We're notifying our emergency rooms, our fire and paramedic services that they need to be watching for this because of how toxic is it," Dr. Joss Reimer said. She said she's worried that the doses of the opioid-overdose antidote available in naloxone kits isn't high enough to reverse the effects of carfentanil.
Reimer warned anyone using drugs in the city to "stick with what you're using, don't try new stuff, and don't mix."
While there hasn't been any reported overdose deaths caused by carfentanil yet in Canada, the drug has been linked to hundreds of deaths across the United States over the last year. Ohio has been hit especially hard, with the Drug Enforcement Administration recording at least eight deaths near Cincinnati associated with carfentanil-laced drugs.
Two Ohio residents were charged last week with distributing carfentanil-laced heroin.
Last month, Canadian border agents seized a package at a Vancouver mailing centre that contained 1 kg of carfentanil, enough to produce 50 million doses, that was bound for Calgary. A Calgary man is currently facing two criminal charges.
"This recent bust of carfentanil will save many lives," said Last-Kolb, whose son was 24 years old when he died from a fentanyl overdose. She called on the government to make naloxone kits more widely available, and to increase resources for people addicted to opioids, as well as for their families.
"My son could be alive today if he had been able to have naloxone with him," she said. "Drugs are not what they used to be."
She also said she would like to see Good Samaritan laws implemented that provide amnesty from criminal charges for people who call the police to report a drug overdose. The people her son was with the night he died were too scared to call the police immediately, she said.
Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter.