Liquid Fentanyl Found In Ontario During Raid, Police Say

By Paul Gaita 11/08/16

Police are concerned that the liquid form of illicit fentanyl may be more dangerous than the fentanyl in powder form.

Liquid Fentanyl Found In Ontario During Raid, Police Say
Photo via Hamilton Police

Police in Ontario, Canada revealed that they are changing the way their officers will handle drug-related arrests and seizures due to the discovery of a liquid form of fentanyl during a raid in May.

The drug, which was found in May 2016 during the execution of a search warrant of a home in Hamilton, a city about an hour outside of Toronto, was initially believed to be GHB, but a report from Health Canada’s Drug Analysis Services (DAS) revealed that the contents were, in fact, fentanyl.

The discovery was initially described by police as the first of its kind in Canada, though Health Canada later reported that DAS “has received liquid samples for testing that have been found to contain fentanyl in the past.”

Concerns that the liquid form of fentanyl was more powerful than the powder form prompted Hamilton police to review their protocol in regard to handling unknown substances. Hamilton Detective Constable Adam Brown, who was among the officers that discovered the drug in May, said that front-line officers may wear eye protection, a respiratory apparatus and two pairs of gloves when investigating drug-related crime scenes in the future.

“It's a complete game changer for us and it's scary because you don't know what concentration this is,” said Brown.

Police concerns about the vial are based on the widespread belief that the liquid form of fentanyl is far more powerful than the power-based form, but medical professionals are stressing that more in-depth analysis of the sample is required before blanket statements regarding either form can be made.

“It’s all about the potency, and until you know something about the potency, you can’t say whether it’s more or less dangerous,” said Dr. Norm Buckley, director of the Michael G. DeGroote National Pain Centre, and the scientific director of the Institute for Pain Research and Care, both at McMaster University. 

Buckley believes that the source of the drug will ultimately determine how dangerous it is to handlers. “Is it pharmaceutical fentanyl or is it some of this illicit fentanyl?” he noted. Buckley, who saw a photo of the vial, believes it’s possibly the latter. “It doesn’t look at all like a pharmaceutical-type product that we get in the operating room,” he shared.

Hospital-grade liquid fentanyl would not be more dangerous than the powder form, Buckley said, because it cannot be absorbed through the skin. But the illicit drug—a sort of “hyper-potent Chinese fentanyl-like drug”—may be “so potent that if you got it on your skin in a liquid format, it might actually be sufficiently absorbed to have an effect on you.” 

Ultimately, Buckley said, fentanyl in any form will require extra care by first responders. “All this stuff is dangerous,” he said. “Are you more dead if you get shot or hit by a car? Same principle.” Currently, Royal Canadian Mounted Police carry naloxone nasal spray to prevent overdose from accidental exposure, and police in Vancouver will be carrying the spray as well.

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