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Ontario Police Chiefs Are Launching a Campaign to Reduce Fentanyl Overdoses

The "Face the Fentanyl' campaign has the goal of spreading awareness about the drug's lethality and improving access to harm reduction services.
March 22, 2016, 9:17pm

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders. Photo by Jake Kivanc.

A new campaign set to target the growing number of fentanyl overdose deaths in Ontario was unveiled by the Ontario Association of Police Chiefs (OAPC) Tuesday.

The "Face the Fentanyl" campaign, a partnership between Humber College and OAPC, aims to "expand awareness" about the lethality of the drug and provide better access to services such as naloxone, an opioid overdose-reducing antidote .

"In 2015, overdose [deaths in Toronto] increased to 254 people," said Toronto city Coun. Joe Cressy.

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"We could have saved those people's lives if we had chosen to act."

The number of people in Toronto who died from drug overdose climbed 41 percent between 2004 and 2013, and more than 5,000 people died in overdoses across Ontario between 2001 and 2013. With fentanyl now the leading cause of opioid overdose in Ontario—accounting for roughly one in four of all fatal overdoses—Cressy said the province could run into a crisis similar to the one currently taking place in Alberta.

"We have to prevent these needless deaths while we still can, while we are only dealing with this on a controllable scale. Because we can do it."

In Alberta, bootleg fentanyl—pressed pills made out of pure synthesized fentanyl powder—is a huge problem that accounted for roughly one in three overdoses in the province last year. In Ontario, the problem largely stems from stolen pharmaceutical fentanyl patches, although some reports of fentanyl powder have started to crop up.

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders told reporters that the answer is "not to arrest people," but rather to provide services so drug users don't die from overdose.

"We can't arrest our way through this thing," he said. "It's about the awareness and understanding about the loss of life that we're having [from this drug.]"

When asked whether the proposed safe injection site plan would be a part of the new campaign, Saunders declined to immediately comment but said he would have to examine whether the plan was safe and effective. However, Cressy told VICE that safe injection sites are going to be "vital" in making sure that "no more people die from this drug."

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