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B.C. drug users testing positive for deadly opioid carfentanil: health ministry

In this June 27, 2016 photo provided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a member of the RCMP opens a printer ink bottle containing the opioid carfentanil imported from China, in Vancouver.

RCMP/AP

B.C.'s Health Ministry has confirmed illicit drug users in Metro Vancouver are ingesting a deadly synthetic opioid typically used as an elephant tranquilizer.

The ministry says a small number of urine tests conducted over a two-week period at treatment facilities across Metro Vancouver tested positive for carfentanil.

The ministry says one or two grains of the drug can be fatal and that it is 100 times more toxic than fentanyl, the drug at the root of the province's overdose crisis.

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The tests were done on 1,766 urine samples and showed 57 of those were positive for carfentanil.

There is no reliable way for people to know if carfentanil is laced with other illicit drugs, and the health ministry is urging users to follow harm reduction measures such as having someone sober present and carrying the opioid antidote naloxone.

The ministry says it is getting weekly surveillance reports on carfentanil and police are continuing to prioritize investigations into drug trafficking in light of the opioid crisis.

The ministry says carfentanil was already found at one overdose fatality in the province, but results are still pending on whether it was the cause of the death.

There were 914 illicit drug overdoses last year in B.C., the highest number on record.

Video: How overdose fatalities in B.C. compare to other causes of death
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