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MANDEL: Toronto judges sounding alarm on fentanyl crisis

It was that easy: hundreds of deadly fentanyl patches were simply sent to the Toronto drug dealer in the mail.

The two envelopes from Belgium were stuffed with 469 fentanyl patches with a street value estimated between $46,900 to $140,700.

But unfortunately for their intended recipient, a suspicious officer with the Canadian Border Services Agency intercepted the packages in Feb. 2017 and passed them on to the RCMP.

The police substituted the drugs in the first envelope with something harmless, and then waited for the owner to pick it up at the front desk of his North York condo where an RCMP officer was posing as a trainee security guard.

And into the trap he fell.

Last week, Alfred Nhan was convicted of attempt to possess fentanyl for the purposes of trafficking.

“There is a Fentanyl crisis in Canada,” warned Ontario Superior Court Justice Bonnie Croll in her reasons for judgment.

Fentanyl, known as the drug that killed Prince, is a synthetic opioid which falls into the same class of drugs as morphine and heroin, but it’s estimated to be up to 100 times more potent.

Fentanyl is prescribed in slow release patches for the treatment of chronic pain.

But there’s a vast illicit market for the potent drug.

Fentanyl is being used as a replacement for heroin, or being mixed with heroin or cocaine to heighten the “rush” or compensate for low quality — often with deadly results.

According to the agreed statement of facts in the Nhan case, there are three ways the patches are being used illegally: users boil them in water and then inject the cooled, drug-laced water under the fingernail or intravenously.

A second method is to remove the fentanyl-laden gel from the patch and smoke it.

A third involves selling the used patch that still contains 9 mg of fentanyl. Distributors will cut the patch up into small squares and sell the “chicklets” to be smoked or chewed.

Patches, though, are not the only source of fentanyl.

Illegal labs, mostly in China, are pumping out an infinitely more dangerous form of the drug: fentanyl powder.

And just a few grains can be lethal. When mixed with heroin or cocaine, users have no idea what they’re getting before it’s too late: The number of accidental deaths involving fentanyl across the country increased by 81% between 2016 and 2017.

Fentanyl abuse is relatively recent.

With trafficking cases only now coming before the courts, Toronto judges are sounding the alarm and looking to impose stiff penalties as a deterrent.

“Fentanyl is killing young people across the country and the rise in mortality is growing exponentially,” wrote Ontario Superior Court Justice Peter Bawden in sentencing a fentanyl trafficker last summer to seven years in prison.

“It has created a public health crisis which is of a different dimension than anything that Canada has ever seen from the sale of illicit drugs.”

Last month alone, there were more than 400 opioid overdoses in Toronto, 17 of them fatal.

Since January, more than 70 people have died in this city.

“The number of deaths from Fentanyl in Toronto is startling,” Ontario Court of Justice Mara Greene noted in sentencing a trafficker in November.

“It has effectively become an epidemic.”

And a lucrative business.

When the RCMP arrested Nhan, the trafficker who received his fentanyl patches by Canada Post, they also seized a Harry Rosen bag filled with $92,370 in stacks of cash.

mmandel@postmedia.com

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