Belgian physician Dr. Paul Janssen develops and produces a new anesthetic, fentanyl, that is 100 times more powerful than morphine. Through his company, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, he also develops drugs used to treat diarrhea in the developing world and HIV/AIDS. Janssen died in 2003.1960sFentanyl comes into widespread use as an intravenous anesthetic alongside several other closely related derivatives of Janssen’s original drug.1968The U.S Food and Drug Administration approves Fentanyl for use in the United States. The FDA had delayed the drug’s introduction because of its potency and fears the drug could be too easily abused.
Syringes of the opioid painkiller fentanyl in an inpatient pharmacy.
Rick Bowmer /
1970sA decade after its introduction, fentanyl begins to appears in the illicit drug trade. The drug delivers an extremely rapid and intense high that is short-lived and quickly addictive. The drug is smoked, snorted or injected.Aug. 29, 1986The first appearance of “fentanyl” in the Ottawa Citizen in the 32 years the paper has maintained an online database. The story, “Designer drugs: The trafficking of underground chemicals” says chemists are making variations of fentanyl that have been linked to 110 deaths in the U.S. since 1979. “Although there are rumours that fentanyl analogs have appeared on the west coast of Canada, Health and Welfare officials say the drug has not yet been detected here,” the story says.Early-1990sThe fentanyl patch is developed that allows the drug to be used to treat chronic pain, particularly in cancer patients. It infuses patients, many of them suffering from cancer, with the potent painkiller through their skin. Fentanyl patches begin appearing on the black market, with users cutting them up to obtain the drug that is contained in a gel inside.1996Purdue Pharma brings a new painkilling opioid to market, OxyContin, which quickly becomes a popular treatment for chronic pain. But it also becomes a popular and deadly recreational drug, too, earning the nickname “Hillbilly Heroin” because of the epidemic of abuse in the American Appalachian region.It’s popular in Canada, too, becoming this country’s most frequently prescribed medicine for chronic pain.1998The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves a lozenge form of Fentanyl, quickly nicknamed a “narcotic lollipop” or a “dope lolly.”“For the right patient, this is a very substantial improvement in the quality of life,” said Michael Friedman, the FDA’s acting commissioner and a cancer specialist. “(It) can provide rapid and dramatic relief.”Critics warn “dope lollys” will encourage children to use the drug.October 2002Fentanyl makes the headlines, but not for medical reasons. Chechen terrorists seize a Moscow theatre and hold 850 hostages. After several days of fruitless negotiations, Russian special forces storm the theatre, but first pump a sleeping gas in through air vents. As many as 200 hostages die in the attack, many of them from the effects of the gas. The Russians never say what gas was used, but U.S. Embassy officials identify it as fentanyl or a derivative. The Russians are accused of not telling doctors what type of gas was used, hindering the treatment of the injured.2008
Fentanyl is widely available in powder form and is being mixed — in uncertain dosages — with all kinds of street drugs. ‘From one dose to the next, you don’t know what the concentration is,’ said Rob Boyd, director of the Oasis clinic at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre.
Tony Caldwell /
Tony Caldwell/Postmedia Network
Observers of Ottawa’s drug scene begin to see a rise in fentanyl use with opioids beginning to overtake crack and cocaine as the area’s drug of choice.“When you get a get a drug-using population switching to opiates, you have a higher risk of overdose,” Rob Boyd, director of the Oasis program at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, tells the paper. “Suddenly we were faced with a lot of overdose deaths and we were scrambling to try make a response to it.”Boyd helps organize Ottawa’s first “Empty Shoes” memorial to those who have died from drug use.2010Canada overtakes the U.S. as the world’s leading prescriber of opioid painkillers.2011A survey of Ontario high school students shows 14 per cent had used prescription opioids while only 11 per cent had used cigarettes.
March 1, 2012
Toby Talbot /
Production of OxyContin ends in Canada, although generic derivatives remain available. As the supply of OxyContin dries up, drug users increasingly turn toward fentanyl.2012Ottawa introduces naloxone treatments in an overdose prevention program involving 17 city agencies. It is one of the first communities in the province to do so.May 2012With the ban on OxyContin, drug users turn to fentanyl as a substitute opioid. Ottawa police begin to see an increase in trafficking in fentanyl patches.Workers with Ottawa’s needle exchange program notice a change too.“When Oxy was delisted, we just started asking at needle exchanges because we hadn’t really heard about this,” says Boyd of the Oasis program. “We started hearing right away that, yeah, everyone was using fentanyl. We didn’t know it.”July 2014Researchers who combed through death records from the Ontario Chief Coroner’s Office found that the overall rate of deaths linked to the narcotic painkillers in the province increased roughly three-fold between 1991 and 2010.During the 20-year study period, the opioid death rates increased 242 per cent, from 12.2 deaths per million in 1991 (127 deaths annually) to 41.6 deaths per million in 2010 (550 deaths annually.)The increase was particularly stark among young people, aged 25-34. By 2010, almost one in eight deaths in that age group involved an opioid.“I think that every doctor who contemplates starting a patient on an opioid for chronic pain should look at that figure and realize that they are playing with fire,” said senior author Dr. David Juurlink at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto and head of the division of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.
In this file photo, Prince performs during the halftime show at Super Bowl XLI.
CHRIS O’MEARA /
April 21, 2016Prince is found dead in an elevator of his Paisley Park home in Minneapolis. Doctors later determine he died of an overdose of fentanyl, the same day that a specialist arrived from California to treat his addiction.July 2016B.C. declares a public health emergency because of the soaring number of fentanyl overdose deaths. The province saw 371 deaths in the first six months of 2016, a 74 per cent increase from the year before.
A sample of carfentanil being tested in a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency lab
Russell Baer /
October 2016The overdose deaths of two Alberta men is blamed on carfentanil, a synthetic drug developed for veterinary uses that is 100 times more potent than fentanyl and 10,000 stronger than morphine. They are the first deaths in Canada linked to carfentanil.November 2016Nearly two people a day are dying in Ontario from opioid overdoses, according to a report from the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network.
An Instagram picture posted as a tribute to Kanata teen Chloe Kotval.
Feb. 14, 2017The overdose death of 14-year-old Chloe Kotval draws an outpouring of grief for the popular All Saint’s High School student. She is not the first suburban Ottawa teen to die of a fentanyl overdose, but her death shocks the city. Ottawa Public Health steps up its information campaign with local school boards to warn of the danger of fentanyl.
Sean O’Leary’s open letter attracted hundreds of responses.
Ashley Fraser /
Feb. 20, 2017Ottawa’s Sean O’Leary posts a desperate message on Facebook about the dangers of fentanyl and his own daughter’s drug use.“My 16-year-old daughter Paige is also a drug addict/abuser. I feel so sad for the parents of the children that have died. But even worse than the sadness I have for them is the fear I/we and many others live with every day that is so real,” O’Leary writes. “My first thought every morning is to check that Paige is alive.”
Cole Nicholls, 17
Julie Oliver /
Feb. 23, 2017 “These Percs have destroyed Kanata,” Cole Nicholls, a teen who has struggled with drug addiction, tells the Citizen (Percocet is brandname painkiller containing the opioid oxycodone). “I used to have so many friends. I tried to help. It just didn’t work. I can’t let them kill themselves. I can’t let my girlfriend kill herself in the process.”
Gatineau Police were investigating the deaths of a man and a woman whose bodies were found at 73 Rue Begin in Gatineau in 2017. Police also found an unharmed three-year-old boy in the Hull apartment at the time.
Tony Caldwell /
Feb. 27, 2017 A Gatineau couple die in their apartment of overdoses, leaving the man’s three-year-old son to fend for himself for three days until their bodies are discovered. The coroner determines the drug used was fentanyl
A sign hangs at the pop-up injection site in Ottawa on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017.
Jean Levac /
August 2017 While Ottawa’s application for a supervised injection site is held up by regulators, the group Overdose Prevention Ottawa opens an illegal “popup” injection site in Rapheal Brunet Park in Lowertown. It has 50 visits in its first three days of operation.
Ottawa Public Health should make the supervised injection site at 179 Clarence St. permanent and add a third booth where users can inject, swallow or snort their drugs, a staff report says.
Jean Levac /
Sept. 26, 2017 Ottawa’s first legal supervised injection site opens on Clarence Street operated by Ottawa Public Health.
Tom Petty, alongside his band The Heartbreakers, closed out RBC Bluesfest on Sunday night. Ashley Fraser/Postmedia
Ashley Fraser /
Oct. 2, 2017 Musician Tom Petty dies of a heart attack after an accidental overdose of painkillers, including fentanyl and oxycodone.Oct, 5, 2017 Police say that carfentanil found in two drug seizures in Ottawa in August, the first confirmed presence of the drug in Ottawa.Nov. 6, 2017 Inner City Health opens a supervised injection site in a converted trailer near the Shepherds of Good Hope on Murray Street. Three days later, Overdose Prevention Ottawa’s “popup” site in Rapheal Brunet Park closes.April 13, 2018 Cole Nicholls, the teen who spoke so passionately about the dangers of fentanyl, dies of a suspected fentanyl overdose.
Community worker J.P. Leblanc (L) and Rob Boyd, the head of the Oasis harm-reduction program at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre inside the new supervised injection site.
Wayne Cuddington /
April 17, 2018 Sandy Hill Community Health Centre opens the city’s first, permanent supervised infection site.July 2018 Ontario’s new Conservative government announces a review of the province’s safe injection sites to see if they “benefit to the people of Ontario.”Sept. 2018 Health Canada’s latest opioid report lists more than 8,000 opioid-related deaths between January 2016 and March 2018, with 73 per cent involving fentanyl or fentanyl firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter.com/getBAC ALSO IN THE NEWS‘I can’t put it into words:’ Clinic source of relief to patients with back painBagnall: Why the city stayed with SNC-Lavalin in LRT extensionNo shadow on city’s choice of SNC-Lavalin, says anti-corruption expert