Fentanyl: A silent epidemic in Durham Region

Photo by Tommy Morais

Fentanyl made its way to Durham Region


Recreational drug users in Durham have something new to worry about. Durham Regional Police Services warn users the drugs they are consuming may now contain traces of the deadly opioid fentanyl. The drug has slowly tightened its grasp on the region and is beginning to garner attention and raise eyebrows. It is the same drug that took the life of pop legend Prince earlier this year.

The American National Institute on Drug Abuse defines the drug as a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It is typically used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery.

Fentanyl takes multiple forms. Lozenges, dissolving tablets, spray and patches are a few them. It can be smoked, eaten and taken intravenously among other methods of consumption.

Max—not his real name— an Oshawa resident, witnessed his friend’s near-death experience in his own home. Max’s friend started using Percocet he obtained on the black market recreationally. He progressively experimented and moved up to harder drugs until he used heroin that was laced with fentanyl.

An evening of recreational drug use took a drastic turn. Max’s friend almost didn’t survive the night.

“It was an extremely traumatic experience seeing someone you love whose lips are literally blue not responding to anything,” says Max. “I’ll never forget the sound of air leaving his lungs as my friend was trying to revive him. It was a horrible sound. I’m traumatized by that and I have dreams about it. I’m very cautious about spending time with this person who was once historically close to me.”

Stories like these are becoming increasingly common. The Durham Region Police Service (DRPS) has taken notice of fentanyl’s growing prominence in the recreational drug scene.

“We’re certainly seeing fentanyl appear on our streets. We started to see incidences of it in 2014 in connection to other drugs,” says David Selby, director of corporate communications for the DRPS.

Recreational users are often unaware the drugs they are using are laced with fentanyl, says Selby. In some cases, it’s a mix that can prove fatal.

“There’s a trend continuing today where you’ll have fentanyl sprinkled into some others drugs and the user doesn’t know. They think it’s heroin or some OxyContin. What they realize afterwards is that fentanyl was laced,” explains Selby. “It’s an incredibly powerful drug, one that can certainly kill you.”

A fentanyl overdose can be difficult to differentiate from other drug overdoses. It takes time and testing before conclusions can be drawn.

“We’ve had numerous deaths and overdoses in Durham Region. We later find out after the laboratory tests are done and screened that fentanyl was found in the heroin, oxy pills or misused patches even,” Selby says.

fentanyl-graphicDespite the efforts of DRPS, users are still finding ways of getting their high in Durham.

The Pinewood Centre of Lakeridge Health in Oshawa is responsible for the treatment of those trying to kick their fentanyl habits. According to Cindy Kwok, clinical coordinator at the Pinewood Centre, there is no 12-step program when addicts try to quit fentanyl and opioids.

Kwok describes fentanyl as “euphoric.”

Lakeridge Health encourages its patients not to try to quit cold turkey to overcome addiction.

“That is the worst thing to do,” stresses Kwok “Unless they taper it, with support and the proper medication.”

Kwok says a growing number of the population is becoming addicted because they are being prescribed fentanyl for pain relief. For some, prescription is where the addiction takes root.

But as with Max’s story, the dangers are not just limited to those who take the drug. It also affects the user’s environment, including friends and family.

Although help is available, Max is still worried about his friend and the relapses are real.

“My one friend has stepped in to get clean on multiple occasions. It works for a period of time but he eventually makes his way back to it,” says Max.

The road to recovery sometimes requires multiple attempts.

“Addiction happens on all walks of life. They were on substances and they decide to change their lifestyle”, says Cindy Kwok. “They want to have a regular life, keep their job, not have to steal money to buy drugs and families to take care of.”


Help is available to anyone who should require it at each of Pinewood’s five locations:

300 Centre St. Oshawa 905-723-8195 ext. 221
419 King St. W. Oshawa 905-571-3344 ext. 110
200 King St. E. Bowmanville 905-697-2746
180 Mary St. Port Perry 905-985-4721
95 Bayly St. Ajax 905-683-5950 ex 224

For general inquiries:

905-723-8195 or 1-888-881-8878

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Originally from Canada's east coast, now living in Durham Region, Tommy is an award-winning, multi-faceted journalist covering news, popular-culture, entertainment, sports and more. My work has been featured in The Chronicle, The Brooklin Town Crier and MyTrendingStories.com You can follow me on Twitter @itsTommyMorais


  1. I used to be part owner in a health club. Ironically I have never seen so many people hooked on prescription drugs as during my time as owner. I had never heard the term” hilbilly herione” before then. I often wonder how so much of this stuff gets out the back door of the pharma companies without someone on the inside helping in the process. Surely something can be done at this stage to stop it. The methadone clinics are apparently getting over-run with people trying to unhook!