09/30/2016 11:38 EDT | Updated 12/14/2016 08:29 EST

Carfentanil, Opioid 100 Times More Powerful Than Fentanyl, Appearing Across Canada

Winnipeg police warn the use of carfentanil — a synthetic opioid similar to fentanyl but 100 times more powerful — is spreading across Canada.

Deputy police chief Danny Smyth detailed the recent seizure of 1,477 doses of carfentanil at a press conference Thursday alongside Arlene Last-Kolb, whose 24-year-old son Jessie died of a fentanyl overdose in 2014.

"How did he get fentanyl? This was a world my family was not prepared for or knew anything about,'' Last-Kolb said.

"If it could happen to my family, it could happen to yours.''


1,477 tabs of carfentanil were seized from a hotel in Winnipeg earlier this month. (Photo: Winnipeg Police Service)

Winnipeg police say carfentanil is often mixed in with other drugs such as cocaine or crystal meth. They found the carfentanil in a search of a hotel in the city's west end last month and recently had the drug confirmed through lab tests. A 37-year-old man was arrested and faces several drug charges.

The bust follows larger seizures in British Columbia and Alberta, including a package discovered by border agents last month that contained one kilogram of carfentanil — enough for 50 million doses.

The drug is so powerful, a tiny 20-microgram dose — about the size of a grain of salt — can be fatal. It's believed to be the first time this form of fentanyl has surfaced in Manitoba.

"We've been inundated with a lot of news (about carfentanil) out of places like Vancouver and now Alberta,'' Smyth said.

The drug is used to tranquilize elephants and other large animals.

"Because of how toxic it is, we're worried it that it's going to require higher doses of naloxone.''

"Our trafficking streams, if you will, they tend to come up from the states, but then they travel west to east, so we're not surprised by this trend.''

Last-Kolb said the priority is to get the powerful drug off the streets and raise awareness among users and their families about the dangers of high-powered synthetic drugs.

She also called for a new Good Samaritan law that would forgive drug users if they called 911 when one of them overdoses — something she says might have helped prevent her son's death.

arlene last kolb

Arlene Last-Kolb pauses as she speaks about her son Jesse, who she lost to a fentanyl drug overdose, during a Winnipeg Police Service press conference about a carfentanil seizure, Thursday, September 29. (Photo: David Lipnowski/The Canadian Press)

"One of the things that happened the night my son passed away is that (his friends) didn't call an ambulance,'' she said.

"He was only a minute from a hospital. They cleaned house, they took their phones, they took the drugs and they took the money and then they called from another home.''

Police warned drug users Thursday to ensure they have a naloxone overdose prevention kit on hand when using carfentanil, fentanyl or heroin. The kits can be purchased without a prescription at pharmacies and opioid users can get them for free through a program run by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

Carfentanil is so powerful, naloxone treatment may have to be updated, said Dr. Joss Reimer, the health authority's medical director.

"Because of how toxic it is, we're worried it that it's going to require higher doses of naloxone.''

With a file from Emma Prestwich

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