POLICE ASSOCIATION OF NOVA SCOTIA 57 • It came into widespread use in the mid-1990s with the introduction of the transdermal patch that releases the drug into the patient's bloodstream over two or three days. When the drug is processed in a clandestine lab with no quality controls, it is difficult to get the dosage right, making it potentially much more dangerous. • Chemical companies in China custom-design variants of pharmaceutical-grade fentanyl by tweaking a molecule ever so slightly.A few hundred micrograms – the weight of a single grain of salt – are enough to trigger heroin-like bliss. But the line between euphoria and fatal overdose is frighteningly thin:An amount the size of two grains of salt can kill a healthy adult. • In British Columbia and Alberta, the two hardest-hit provinces, fatal overdoses linked to fentanyl soared from 42 in 2012 to 418 in 2015. • Because illicit fentanyl is so potent, once it arrives here, the white crystalline powder gets diluted with powdered sugar, baby powder or antihistamines before it can be sold on the street and consumed. It is also mixed into other drugs, and sold as heroin or OxyContin. • The arrival of illicit fentanyl in Canada is a "game changer," says Benedikt Fischer, a senior scientist at Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. When Canada's opioid problem involved only the abuse of prescription drugs, he says, policymakers squandered an opportunity to address it. Now that many addicts are turning to a drug that is manufactured without government oversight – and in countries beyond our borders, to boot – it is nearly impossible to get a grip on the problem. "Even if we wanted to now suddenly take action, there's nothing we can do," he says. "We have no way of controlling thousands of illegal drug labs in China." • Unlike the massive infrastructure and cartels required to manufacture and transport heroin or cocaine, just about anyone can buy and sell fentanyl. Because it is so powerful, a little goes a long way. A kilogram ordered over the Internet – an amount equal in weight to a medium-sized cantaloupe – sells on the street in Calgary for $20-million, making it a drug dealer's dream. • Buyers are assured their packages won’t get seized at the Canadian border. To avoid the risk of detection, says a supplier from China, he conceals the purchase alongside urine test strips. Not that there is a need to worry: Canadian border guards cannot open packages weighing less than 30 grams without the consent of the recipient. • The supplier, who identified himself only as Alan, says he has two customers in Canada. He e-mails photos of fentanyl hidden inside silica-desiccant packets – the type normally used when shipping goods such as electronics – and a screen shot of a recent order from Canada, including a shipping address for a clothing store in British Columbia's picturesque Okanagan Valley. HOWCANADA GOTADDICTED TO FENTANYL Suppliers in China hide fentanyl in decoy packages before shipping the drug to Canada. Sometimes they conceal the drug alongside urine test strips. Fentanyl from China is sometimes hidden in silica desiccant packages. continued