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Sample tests negative for fentanyl, Abbotsford police say after heroin warning

Cory Monteith gives an interview in Toronto in 2009.

FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Police in a British Columbia community who earlier this week issued a public warning about a surge in heroin overdoses say a drug sample has come back negative for fentanyl, eliminating one possible explanation.

The Abbotsford Police Department had said on Wednesday that the presence of fentanyl, an opioid that can look similar to heroin but is several times stronger – could be to blame for the surge.

The warning generated considerable attention because it came one day after an autopsy showed Glee star Cory Monteith died in his Vancouver hotel room of a toxic mix of heroin and alcohol. The coroner later said Mr. Monteith had no fentanyl in his system.

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Constable Ian MacDonald, an Abbotsford police spokesman, said in an interview a drug sample the department bought and sent for testing showed no fentanyl. He said the sample was unusually potent, but exactly why remains unclear.

Constable MacDonald said it is possible the maker of the drug changed ingredients and created an especially powerful batch. He said the sample police bought could also have been atypical, and the municipal force plans to acquire more.

Abbotsford, located in the Fraser Valley about an hour east of Vancouver, has long been mired in a drug debate. A group of injection users filed a lawsuit in May over a city bylaw that bans harm-reduction services such as needle exchanges.

Mayor Bruce Banman has said he supports rescinding the ban, but is opposed to supervised injection. He did not return messages seeking comment on Thursday.

B.C.'s provincial health officer issued a bulletin in late May advising physicians, first responders and other health care workers to watch for overdoses associated with fentanyl.

The B.C. Coroners Service has seen 30 fentanyl-related deaths so far in 2013, up from 20 in all of 2012. There were eight fentanyl-related deaths in 2011.

The coroners service said on Thursday it has not seen an increase in heroin-related deaths this year.

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Abbotsford police have seen at least eight heroin overdoses since mid-May, one of which was fatal. The department said overdose calls have gone up by as much as 39 per cent.

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