04 Jul Big jump in carfentanil deaths in Ontario: Chief coroner
The Ontario Office of the Chief Coroner is warning of a sudden spike in overdose deaths caused by the highly toxic drug carfentanil.
Chief Coroner Dr. Dirk Huyer said the effects of carfentanil were directly responsible for at least 142 deaths in the province in the first four months of the year – compared to 95 in all of 2018 – and the number is likely to rise as more cases are completed.
“Because we saw such a significant number compared to all of last year, we thought this was a very important piece of information to come out,” Huyer said Wednesday.
“This is the minimum number of carfentanil deaths.”
Carfentanil is an opioid typically used by veterinarians on large animals and is not meant for human consumption.
Public health officials say the tasteless and odourless drug is about 100 times more toxic than fentanyl and just a tiny amount can kill.
In addition to the rising number of deaths, laboratories that test drug samples seized by police and urine samples from places such as methadone clinics are increasingly identifying carfentanil, Huyer said.
There are also reports that larger quantities of Naloxone are needed to reverse overdoses in some patients, a sign that carfentanil use may be more prevalent, he said.
The Chief Coroner’s Office adopted a new approach to the investigation of drug-related deaths in May 2017, setting a case target of three months to provide more timely and robust information, he said.
“The reason that we want to do that is to have information to be able to help inform others about potential risks and potential opportunities for intervention,” Huyer said.
The information from the chief coroner prompted Toronto Public Health to issue an alert in its physician e-newsletter Tuesday with guidance for patients, including the recommendation that they use a supervised consumption service or overdose prevention site.
Toronto Health Board Chair Joe Cressy said three people a day lose their life to overdoses in Ontario, while the provincial government cuts funding to six supervised injection sites.
“These are preventable deaths,” Cressy said.
“We have a tainted drug supply where fentanyl and carfentanil are involved in nearly 90% of all overdose deaths.”
Some people are using other drugs without knowing that they contain the potentially deadly substances, he said.
“So someone on Bay Street does a line of coke after work and finds out it’s laced with a tainted substance and that’s it,” Cressy said.
“I’ve had experiences of 22-year-olds dying in nightclubs after doing Ecstasy only to find it’s tainted. And so nobody is immune from the overdose crisis.”
Investigations are continuing and not enough information is available yet to determine which parts of the province have the biggest problem with carfentanil, Huyer said.