Calgary has the unfavourable distinction of being considered the epicentre of fentanyl use in Canada and police fear there will be further loss of life following the arrival of a powerful alternative known as W-18.

“It’s an extremely powerful synthetic opiate that they estimate as being a hundred times more powerful than what fentanyl currently is,” explains Sergeant Jason Walker of the Calgary Police Service. “Fentanyl, in and of itself, is deemed to be 100 times more powerful than morphine.”

To date, members of the Calgary Police Service have only seized a single sample of W-18 but investigators believe the drug is likely on city streets. The Edmonton Police Service has not encountered W-18.

In 2015, there were 213 fentanyl related deaths in Alberta, 70 occurring in Calgary. The Calgary death toll exceeds last year’s combine numbers of homicides and fatal motor vehicle collisions.

Calgary Police Service Chief of Police Roger Chaffin says fentanyl’s impact is far-reaching.

“This is touching across a huge span of ages, also the demographic in terms of income and position within the community,” That’s one of the challenges with it, it’s not predictable.”

Police Chief Chaffin says he’s passionate about implementing more robust, effective addiction strategies and the CPS will ramp up its response to curb both supply and demand.

“As long as there’s a strong addict community, those drugs will show up whether it’s fentanyl or the next drug coming,” said Chaffin. “It’s getting those people the support they need and the services they need in a real time.

The new initiative will have the CPS working alongside Alberta Health Services and non-profit organizations with a focus on:

  • Building community awareness
  • Investigating drug supply lines
  • Prioritizing drug treatment program referrals
  • Providing timely treatment

Families of Calgarians struggling with fentanyl addiction are applauding the new approach.

Cathy Nelson’s 20-year-old daughter started using fentanyl two years ago and the addiction has left her homeless and jobless.

““I’ve tried everything to stop her,” said Nelson. “We paid $5,000 for an interventionist and then $20,000 to put her in a 60 day treatment at a private rehab centre.”

Nelson says her daughter was kicked out of the program after 12 days and the habit of taking roughly 20 pills a day persists.  She continues to hold onto the hope up that her daughter will get the help she needs and come out of this alive.

“Let’s get rid of these drugs. They’re killing our kids.”

Vanisha Breault knows the pain a mother feels when their child has the disease of addiction. Her 14-year-old daughter’s experiments with drugs snowballed from marijuana to MDMA and methamphetamine.

“I was like most parents,” said Breault. “I was caught up in the shame of it. I didn’t want anyone to know what was going on in my family. Right away, we feel like what have we done wrong as parents. ”

Breault faced the terrifying ordeal but her attempts to secure help for her daughter through a number of services within Calgary were unsuccessful.  

“I made the decision to take her into treatment into AARC (Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre) so that’s where she ended up at 15.”

Her daughter’s time at AARC has been life altering.

“Right now, today, she’s doing phenomenal.”

As her daughter’s recovery continues, Breault remains a champion for improving access to treatment, educations in schools and awareness in the general public.

“It doesn’t have to be such a hellish experience to get help for someone you love,” said Breault. “We have a health crisis on our hands.”

With files from CTV's Rahim Ladhani