Fentanyl had a role to play in 165 overdose deaths in Ontario last year but the province’s chief coroner says the drug is not yet as prevalent as it is in Western Canada.

Chief Coroner Dirk Huyer made the comment to reporters as a two-day training symposium for 450 front-line officers and border patrol agents got underway in Toronto. The symposium is being hosted by the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police with the goal of giving attendees valuable information on the health and public safety challenges posed by fentanyl.

“Year over year we are seeing a gradual increase (in overdose deaths) but not anywhere close to the dramatic change we have seen in BC in the last couple of months,” Huyer said. “It has been a dramatic change in BC and that is likely because illicit powdered fentanyl is being mixed in with other drugs and the people who are utilizing those drugs do not have the awareness of the fetanyl being mixed in.”

In April, B.C.’s chief health officer took the unusual step of declaring a public health emergency after more than 200 fentanyl overdose deaths were recorded during the first three months of 2016.

Huyer said that in Ontario, fentanyl was only determined to have played a role in about 30 per cent of overdose deaths in 2015 but he said that the drug is likely to become more common in the coming months and years. The total number of fentanyl deaths in Ontario has already seen an increase from 154 in 2014 and 86 in 2010.

Overall, there were 700 deaths from opioid overdoses in Ontario in 2015 and one in eight deaths of people between the ages of 25 and 34 involved opioids.

“Clearly it is a health problem that needs to be dealt with in multiple ways and there needs to be multiple disciplines contributing to the strategy,” Huyer said.

Fentanyl increasingly finding its way onto black market

Fentanyl is a prescription painkiller that is traditionally taken through pills or a patch; however police say that the drug is increasingly being sold on the black market in synthetic form.

Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner, who chairs the OACP substance abuse committee, told reporters on Wednesday that police in Hamilton recently seized liquid fetanyl, which he called a “game changer.” As well, Taverner said that there have been some instances in Western Canada where a more powerful derivative of the drug known as carfentanyl have been seized.

“Carfentanyl is 100 times more potent than fetanyl. Just to put that in perspective, 20 micro grams of Carfentanyl is enough to kill someone. That is about the size of a grain of salt,” Taverner said.

Taverner said that he believes that the illegal fentanyl trade will eventually make billions of dollars for organized crime.

The superintendent also warned that the drug will kill scores of people and present a “crisis” for law enforcement and public health agencies.

“One pill of a drug that is laced with fetanyl can be broken in half and one person can take it and be fine but the next person that takes the other half will end up dead because they hit a hot spot in the pill. These things are happening. This isn’t something I am just saying,” he said.