Abuse of the drug Fentanyl, a powerful painkiller gaining popularity in Ontario and Quebec, could slowly creep into Nova Scotia, says the executive director of a Halifax methadone clinic.
Fentanyl patches, first developed a decade ago, are designed to slowly release the painkiller drug over 72 hours.
But in the last five years drug users discovered the prescription narcotic could be chewed, smoked, injected or otherwise consumed all at once.
The drug is 100 times more potent than morphine and is 750 times stronger than codeine, according to Dr. Michelle Arnot, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Toronto.
At Direction 180 in Halifax, the focus is on methadone treatment for all types of opiate addictions.
Executive director Cindy MacIsaac said two clients have recently reported getting high on Fentanyl.
"They would access them via other people. They would then take them and break them down and inject," she said.
MacIsaac says Direction 180 cautions clients against using the drug.
"We always try to encourage people not to play with those kind of things that they don't know what they're playing with," she said.
Shaun Black works with drug detox programs in the Halifax area. He says there's a high risk for overdose with Fentanyl.
"The concern is how strong this thing is…painkillers have different strengths, of the group Fentanyl is the strongest one. Bar none," he said.
As with oxycodone products, Fentanyl is legal with a prescription.
The use of Fentanyl is spiking in Ontario and Quebec where the prescription painkiller Oxycontin has become harder to obtain. .
MacIaac said that's no surprise.
"Whenever the floodgate is stopped, whenever you take away one drug or you restrict one type of pill, prohibition doesn't work. It only takes the next step whereby people are doing other things," she said.
She said it's possible a wave of Fentanyl abuse could start moving east.
"A trend will start in other parts of the country and it'll filter our way and we tend to be behind the times a little bit, which is a good thing," MacIsaac said.
Black downplayed the drug's popularity in Nova Scotia.
"I haven't heard from my colleagues a great deal of reports on the use of Fentanyl by clients coming in or any increase at all," he said.
Black said he thinks the popularity of Dilaudid in Nova Scotia, which is relatively easy to crush and use, will keep Fentanyl use from growing out of control.
MacIsaac argues the expansion of methadone treatment offers hope of mitigating the impact of drugs such as Fentanyl, and keeping new outbreaks under control.