2022 report: Toronto’s increasingly unpredictable and toxic unregulated opioid supply

On behalf of its members, Toronto’s Drug Checking Service, is releasing Toronto’s increasingly unpredictable and toxic unregulated opioid supply, a brief report that aims to highlight observed changes and trends in Toronto’s unregulated opioid supply using drug market monitoring data generated by the service between January 1 and December 31, 2022.

This report will focus on opioids, with particular emphasis on samples expected to be fentanyl, given that fentanyl is the primary driver of the toxic and fatal drug poisoning crisis; fentanyl is also the drug checked most by Toronto’s Drug Checking Service.

Key takeaways include:

  • Samples expected to be opioids continued to be more contaminated than other expected drugs: only 6% of expected fentanyl substances contained only fentanyl, as compared to 81% of expected methamphetamine and 74% of expected cocaine substances, respectively.
  • The composition of expected fentanyl samples reported as being associated with overdose are becoming more complex, with more high-potency opioids and non-opioid central nervous system and respiratory depressants, like benzodiazepine-related drugs and xylazine, found over the course of our pilot program.
  • Over 60% of expected fentanyl samples contained a noteworthy drug – mostly other central nervous system and respiratory depressants, which could dangerously suppress vitals (e.g., slowing down of breathing, blood pressure, heart rate) and cause extreme sedation.
  • Over 20% of expected fentanyl samples contained more than one high-potency opioid. When high-potency opioids are used in combination, the risk of overdose increases and more naloxone or other sustained responses (e.g., oxygen) may be required to reverse an overdose.
  • Fluorofentanyl (a family of active fentanyl-related drugs para-, ortho-, or meta-fluorofentanyl, which are up to 2 times stronger than fentanyl) went from presenting in just 1% of expected fentanyl samples from January to August to 36% by December.
  • Despite claims made in the media and public discourse, Toronto’s Drug Checking Service has found that high-potency opioids rarely contaminate other drug types, such as stimulants, psychedelics, and depressants – 0.4% of non-opioid samples contained high-potency opioids in 2022.

As of April 1, 2023, Toronto’s Drug Checking Service is without a long-term funding commitment and has begun to wind down various aspects of the service. As the only operational drug checking service in the province of Ontario, an internationally recognized leader in the field of harm reduction, and given its positive and quantifiable impact on responding to Canada’s drug poisoning crisis, Toronto’s Drug Checking Service urgently requires a sufficient and long-term funding commitment to sustain and scale its operation. If you are interested in supporting us or learning more, please email drugchecking@cdpe.org.

Download the report.