Fearing Fentanyl, Canadian Customs Officials Told to Avoid Screening Suspicious Packages

By Paul Gaita 10/17/16

This decision comes on the heels of the hospitalization of three Vancouver police officers for fentanyl exposure in September. 

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Fearing Fentanyl, Canadian Customs Officials Told to Avoid Screening Suspicious Packages

Canada’s Border Services Agency (CBSA) is advising its officers to avoid contact with any package that they suspect contains fentanyl. CBSA agents must screen suspicious packages at all entry points into Canada, including border points, airports and postal facilities, but with the skyrocketing number of fatal overdoses due to the synthetic opioid and evidence from narcotics agents on both sides of the border that the drug is entering North America from overseas, the agency is asking officers to exercise caution in regard to suspicious international packages.

Recent statistics cite 488 drug overdose deaths between January and August 2016 in British Columbia alone, prompting the province to declare a public health emergency in April.

“What we're telling our officers at this time, from a health and safety point of view, is that if there's a package and they think there could fentanyl, they shouldn't touch it. They shouldn't approach it,” said Jean-Pierre Fortin, president of Canada's Customs and Immigration Union.

Should an agent believe that a package contains the drug, they are being advised to give the package to supervisors at the international mail sorting facility at Vancouver International Airport. Canada Post, which oversees the facility, did not offer a response to queries about how many packages had been labeled as suspected.

The decision is the latest effort by Canadian law officials to protect their agents and officers from the dangers of coming in contact with even a small dose of fentanyl. After three Vancouver police officers were hospitalized for fentanyl exposure while responding to overdoses, the department announced in September that officers would be trained to use the overdose drug Narcan (naloxone).

The move echoes similar training efforts for law enforcement and federal agents in the United States, including the Drug Enforcement Administration. 

“The border is actually the first line of defense of this country, so obviously we need to be trained like the firefighters, like the police,” said Fortin. “We need to approach this so our officers have the right tools, right training and the right equipment.”

The next step for CBSA agents—to provide them with training and access to Narcan—has yet to be announced.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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