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Two police forces, Alberta Health Services work together to fight fentanyl

Last Updated Aug 13, 2015 at 5:43 pm EDT

Fentanyl pills are shown in an undated police handout photo. Another fentanyl arrest has two police forces and Alberta's health agency working together to raise awareness about the dangerous drug. A Calgary man has been charged after a joint investigation by the Canadian Border Services Agency, the RCMP and Calgary police. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT)

CALGARY – Charges in another fentanyl case have police forces and Alberta health officials teaming up to fight the dangerous drug, saying arrests alone won’t solve the issue.

“Certainly police will not be able to arrest their way out of this problem,” Calgary police Staff Sgt. Martin Schiavetta said at a news conference Thursday. “It is a health problem. It is law enforcement problem. It’s a problem for all of society.”

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid used primarily to treat severe pain, is a growing concern across Canada as the number of deaths and overdoses from the drug continue to climb.

A recent report from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse said as many as 655 Canadians may have died between 2009 and 2014 from fentanyl overdoses. Health Canada’s drug analysis labs have also been detecting fentanyl more and more often in street drugs being sent for testing by law enforcement agencies.

Calgary police say 145 people in Alberta have already died from suspected fentanyl overdoses this year compared with 120 last year.

“Is it frustrating, absolutely,” said Schiavetta. “When the police or medical professionals are going out and telling parents that their loved one has passed away as a result of a drug induced death, it has major, major impacts of course on families, on loved ones, on our health-care system.”

Seizures of the deadly drug are also up. Calgary police have made 34 fentanyl busts this year compared with 12 in all of 2014, Schiavetta said.

Police detailed Thursday how they managed to intercept a package last month at Vancouver’s International Mail Centre. Authorities say a parcel from China was marked as a muffler and addressed to someone in Calgary. Lab tests confirmed 122 grams of white powder found inside the package to be pure fentanyl.

Kasimir Tyabji, 27, of Calgary, is charged with one count of importing a controlled substance and is next to appear in court Monday.

Police warn fentanyl’s potency makes stakes high for users. As little as two milligrams — the equivalent of two grains of salt — can kill someone. Users often don’t know what they are getting when they buy a pill.

“Fentanyl is hiding in drugs Albertans are using. Fentanyl is killing Albertans,” said medical health officer Dr. Nicholas Etches with Alberta Health Services.

The health agency began last month to deliver kits of naloxone, a drug that can reverse a fentanyl overdose if it’s administered right away, to recreational users and some aboriginal communities in Alberta.

One life already has been saved by a kit in Calgary, said Etches.

In a release Thursday, Health Canada said it is working to support provinces, territories and law enforcement agencies in their fight against the drug. For one, the department is reviewing the prescription-only status of naloxone on an urgent basis.

RCMP Cpl. Brad McIntosh said while British Columbia’s ports are a main place of entry for fentanyl, it is a national problem.

“It’s not a localized phenomenon in Alberta and B.C. This is affecting Canadians across the country.”