BY: NADIA ZAIDI
If there is one thing that Canadians aren’t discussing, it’s the right kind of drugs. While debates around marijuana continue to heat up, other dangerous drugs slip under the radar. It seems like an epidemic reserved for rural America, or perhaps in the confines of abandoned alleyways in the Third World. But Fentanyl has become an increasingly domestic issue, making its way into classrooms and in your neighbour’s basement.
What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid analgesic. This is just a fancier way of saying that it is a strong pain reliever.
Breaking down Fentanyl:
- Around 50 – 100 times more potent than morphine.
- Around 30 – 50 times more powerful than heroin.
- Used to treat patients who suffer from extreme pain.
- Street names: China Girl, Goodfella, TNT, Murder 8, Dance Fever, Tango and Cash, Apache etc.
- It is ingested as powder, tablets, and can be swallowed, snorted, or taken orally through blotted paper.
It was first prepared and developed by Dr. Paul Janssen in 1959 under a patent held by his company Janssen Pharmaceutica. During this time, it was used as an anaesthetic called Sublimaze. Its popularity inspired the development of similar compounds, including: Sufentanil, Lofentanil, and Remifentanil. By the mid-1990s, Fentanyl was developed into a patch for patients to receive transdermally (applied through the skin, so that it is absorbed slowly into the body.)
Eventually, these patches became highly popular in clinics. Other forms of ingestion became used to treat cancer patients with chronic pain, and earlier on, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the development of a pill called Onsolis, a soluble film of Fentanyl that is placed under the mouth for absorption and thus eliminating the possibility of crushing or inhaling it.
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 47,000 deaths in 2014 due to this epidemic. It’s been illegally manufactured and brought into Canada through China and Mexico. What facilitates the trafficking of Fentanyl across the border are methods of disguise. Fentanyl is often concealed as other popular pharmaceutical medications such as Xanax and Norvasc.
Also, it is extremely easy to purchase, especially online. Buyers are told that their package is essentially guaranteed without detection from border guards (if the package weighs less than 30 grams and are not given consent to inspect it.)
But, for online suppliers, the borders may as well not exist; they devise clever ways to conceal the drugs and evade inspection rules. Suppliers often ship drugs in packages under the 30-gram threshold, ensuring border agents won’t open them.
In countries like China and Mexico, there are large underground drug operations, industries of their own. There aren’t proper drug enforcement laws to seize operations, and what little power of exertion that officers have is fragmented and mostly corrupt. Chinese drug lords for example profit off the work of chemical companies that have the know-how to design variations that will lead to ultimate user-high. The single weight of a grain of salt can illicit effects of heroin.
Canada consumes the second-largest amount of prescription opioids on a per-capita basis – and the driving force behind the country’s rise in black market drug trade. In 2016, the opioid related death rate in the country was 8.8 per 100,000 population with a recorded 2,458 deaths from opioid overdoses. To put this into perspective, cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada, with an estimated 78, 800 deaths per year.