1 man charged, another arrested in connection with fentanyl at Esgenoôpetitj

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One man has been charged and another man is facing charges in connection with a pill containing fentanyl that was found on Esgenoôpetitj First Nation, where the drug is suspected in the overdoses of several people, including a woman who died.

Jesse Joe, 35, of Fredericton, appeared in Miramichi court on Friday to face charges of trafficking in a controlled substance and breach of probation, say RCMP.

Joe has been remanded in custody and is scheduled to return to court on April 25.

A 60-year-old man from Esgenoôpetitj First Nation was also arrested in connection with the case and released pending a later court appearance, Const. Hans Ouellette said in a statement.

Both men were arrested Thursday on the reserve, said Ouellette.

Police are continuing to investigate the death of a 35-year-old woman on April 11 on Esgenoôpetitj First Nation and are awaiting toxicology results, he said.

Earlier this week, RCMP announced a Health Canada analysis confirmed a pill seized from Esgenoôpetitj First Nation contained fentanyl.

Health Canada describes fentanyl as a prescription painkiller about 100 times more powerful than morphine.

The pill seized by police after the fatal overdose on the reserve is described as blue with "Percocet 5" written on it. The pill is about one centimetre in diameter.

Anyone with any information about the case is asked to contact the Neguac RCMP at 506-776-3000 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

No plan from public health yet

New Brunswick's acting chief medical officer of health says it's too soon to make decisions on how the province will deal with a potential fentanyl crisis.

That includes deciding whether to cover the costs of naloxone. The drug can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose at a cost of about $35 per dose.

"Here in New Brunswick, we're not making any decisions right now because we're still getting information and we're still having those discussions," Dr. Jennifer Russell said Friday.

Public health has formed a working group on the issue and it met as recently as Thursday.

But officials have been short on details about what exactly the province has done to prepare for a surge in fentanyl overdoses. The drug has already killed at least 18 people in New Brunswick since 2011.

"There will be some more updates as we get more information," Russell said.

"But we don't have any new decisions to make right now, other than overall looking at all the different things, including surveillance, including education and awareness, including first responders and those kinds of things."

Calls for free naloxone

Critics, including pharmacists and community groups, say the province is running out of time to reveal its plan.

They're calling on the government to distribute naloxone free of charge to anyone who needs it.

Nova Scotia already provides the opioid overdose antidote free to community groups, with plans to give it out for free at pharmacies soon.

The free kits have already reversed at least 50 potentially deadly opioid overdoses, according to Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health.

"We have done a number of things knowing that we couldn't just sit and wait for everything," he said.