A spike in fentanyl-related deaths in British Columbia has prompted police and government agencies to escalate their fight against the dangerous opioid that's 100 times stronger than morphine.
Recently, drug dealers have been cutting other drugs with fentanyl — a cheap prescription painkiller that often comes in patch form that, when taken recreationally, can be smoked, snorted, or taken in a pill form known as "fake oxy". Most drug users, including seasoned addicts, don't even know they're taking it, police say, and even a small amount can be fatal.
This weekend, 17-year-old Jack Bodie died in Vancouver from suspected fentanyl overdose, just days after a man in his 30s died after taking the drug. And late last month, a young Vancouver couple, Hardy and Amelia Leighton, died after ingesting high levels of fentanyl mixed with other drugs, leaving their two-year-old son behind.
These deaths are on top of 54 other overdose deaths among people who used fentanyl in the province so far this year. According to the coroners service in BC, drug overdose deaths linked to fentanyl have risen more than 25 percent in the last three years.
"If you go back five years, you would never have seen or heard mention of fentanyl," Sergeant Lindsey Houghton from BC's anti-gang unit recently told the Globe and Mail. "But you do now, and you do regularly, because of how cheap it is and the ease with which it's mixed into create these other drugs."
In a survey by the BC Center for Disease Control found that 29 percent of drug users in the province had fentanyl in their system, but 73 percent of them reported they had not used the drug recently.
And the problem isn't limited to BC, with a growing number of similar deaths happening across the country. In 2014, fentanyl was a factor in the deaths of 120 people in Alberta, and there have been 50 such deaths already this year. In Ontario, the drug is killing twice as many people as heroin. Across North American, fentanyl is rapidly becoming a drug of choice for many users.
From 2005 to 2007, there were more than 1,000 overdose deaths related to fentanyl around Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia.
In an effort to curb illicit fentanyl use, police in BC launched its Know Your Source campaign, an online hub with information about the drug and how people who do choose to use can reduce its harmful effects.
According to Global News, the civil forfeiture office in BC is trying to seize $3 million in assets related to illegal fentanyl sales.
A BC couple is currently facing multiple criminal charges related to fentanyl possession and trafficking after their home was raided earlier this year as part of a major drug bust.
Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne