The RCMP's national drug program coordinator says drug users are playing "Russian roulette" when they take illicit narcotics such as cocaine, heroin and ecstasy because they could be laced with the powerful opioid fentanyl.
"Don't assume that anything you find is what it is," Sgt. Luc Chicoine told guest host Stu Mills on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.
"Any drugs can be laced or mixed, and have a certain percentage of fentanyl. We have seen it through Health Canada's drug analysis lab into cocaine, into heroin, and mixed with other components. So right now any types of powder, any types of drugs is believed to be containing fentanyl, and dealt with accordingly."
Chicoine said fentanyl first appeared on the RCMP's radar in 2002, but didn't emerge as a regular street drug until 2009 when police first began seizing it in large quantities. From there it "took a life of its own," according to Chicoine.
Most of the fentanyl found in Canada comes from China, Chicoine said.
"The demand is big. And what we have seen in the last four to five years with the internet ... the world has shrunk.... And that's what we've seen in e-commerce, including the illicit production and the illicit traffic of drugs."
Chicoine believes fentanyl is more of a problem in Canada because of the ubiquity of prescription drugs.
"North Americans are really over-medicated, I always say. So opioids are a common pharmaceutical drugs that you're going to find," he said.
Although fentanyl is found mixed with many illicit drugs, Chicoine said the RCMP has yet to find it in marijuana — but he said there is a risk it could be.
He repeated the RCMP's warning about the drug and the widespread overdose crisis it has created.
"We haven't seen anything as serious as fentanyl. I'm not saying that the other drugs are not serious. Any drugs are dangerous and are serious. But the problem with fentanyl is the potency of it, and so little can kill you. And that's what the crisis is based on," he said.
"It is Russian roulette."