Deadly opioid carfentanil found in street drug in Nelson, B.C.

Police are warning the public that carfentanil, an "extremely dangerous" synthetic opioid used to tranquilize elephants, has been found in street drugs seized in Nelson, B.C., in the province's West Kootenay.

The Nelson Police Department seized suspected counterfeit oxycodone tablets during a recent arrest, and sent them to Health Canada for testing, which confirmed the presence of the drug, said Detective Constable David Laing.

"Cafentanil is extremely dangerous," said Laing. "Unfortunately this stuff is so potent it could be a lot more challenging than we have had in the past."

Laing said he believed this was the first detection of carfentanil in Nelson — which has a population of about 10,000 — though he wasn't sure because he had recently moved from policing in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Spike in overdose deaths

Carfentanil, which is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, was first detected in street drugs in Vancouver in November, and linked to an overdose death that same month. It was found on Vancouver Island last month.

Officials have said they suspect the introduction of carfentanil in the drug supply in late 2016 played a role in the unprecedented number of illicit drug overdose deaths in November and December across B.C.

The Kootenay Boundary region, which includes Nelson, has not been immune to the public health crisis, according to the latest numbers from the BC Coroners Service.

Last year, there were 10 illicit drug overdose deaths in 2016, and seven in 2015 — up from an average of less than three in the eight previous years.

January 2017 has already seen one overdose death in the region.