The death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is the latest incident to cast a spotlight on the growing use of heroin in the United States, but the drug has also made headlines in Canada several times in recent years.
Vancouver’s heroin scene came to international attention in July when Glee star Cory Monteith died in his hotel room of a heroin and alcohol overdose.
The city’s heroin addicts have recently turned to activism in a battle with Health Canada. Last November, five addicts, with the backing of the foundation that operates St. Paul’s Hospital, announced they would go to court to ensure they are able to get prescription heroin to treat their chronic addictions. In September, Vancouver doctors applied through Health Canada’s Special Access Program to obtain and prescribe diacetylmorphine for 21 people. They got approval, but Ottawa has vowed to keep heroin out of the hands of the addicts.
In May, B.C. Provincial Health Officer Perry Kendall warned emergency physicians, first responders and other health-care workers to watch for overdoses associated with fentanyl, a powerful opioid that can look like, and is sometimes sold as, heroin or oxycodone. In November, Mounties in Nanaimo, B.C., warned heroin users to take extra precautions after three reported overdoses in 24 hours. Also, four Calgarians were stopped at their city’s airport as they were coming home from Mexico and were found with 900 grams of suspected black tar heroin. Authorities said at the time heroin was the most-seized narcotic at the airport.
In November, 2012, the Canada Border Services Agency intercepted 160 kilos of ephedrine mixed with vanilla powder in containers imported from India. The Calgary seizure was revealed when authorities announced Project Infinity, a police operation that dismantled a ring that was alleged to have been smuggling heroin from Pakistan, cocaine from Peru and chemical precursors from India.
Toronto’s most famous admitted crack user, Mayor Rob Ford, was also accused in police documents of using heroin. When asked by reporters whether he had ever used heroin, Ford laughed and did not respond.
Last September, 11 Ontario residents were arrested after millions of dollars worth of drugs destined for Canada were seized through a years-long joint investigation. More than $78-million worth of illegal drugs – including 24 kilograms of heroin and quantities of cocaine, opium, ecstasy and crystal meth – have been seized since Project Infinity began in 2010, a collaboration between the Ontario Provincial Police’s Organized Crime Bureau, the Toronto Police drug squad’s Major Projects Section and the Canada Border Services Agency.
Last month, the Halifax-based HMCS Toronto, a warship on patrol in the Indian Ocean, intercepted a vessel carrying a massive haul of heroin. The drug vessel spotted within 40 nautical miles (74 kilometres) of the Tanzanian coast, was boarded and 265 bags of heroin weighing in at more than 280 kilograms were found. In December, the frigate made what the military called the largest heroin seizure in the history of combined maritime forces operations when it recovered 538 kg of the drug after stopping a ship off the east coast of Africa.