Fentanyl super labs in Canada pose new threat for U.S. opioid epidemic

Police discovered a fentanyl lab in April near Vancouver. The spread of such labs in Canada could undermine U.S. enforcement efforts and worsen the opioid crisis in both nations. (Courtesy Vancouver Police Department)

At a rural property an hour outside Vancouver in October, Canadian police found 2.5 million doses of fentanyl and 528 gallons of chemicals in a shipping container and a storage unit. Six months earlier, they raided a home in a cookie-cutter Vancouver subdivision packed with barrels of fentanyl-making chemicals, glassware and lab equipment.

Thousands of miles away outside Toronto, police in August found what is believed to be the largest fentanyl lab so far in Canada — hidden at a property 30 miles from the U.S. border crossing at Niagara Falls, N.Y.

U.S. authorities say they have little indication that Canadian-made fentanyl is being smuggled south in significant quantities. But at a time when record numbers of people are dying from overdoses in the United States, the spread of clandestine fentanyl labs in Canada has the potential to undermine U.S. enforcement efforts and worsen the opioid epidemic in both nations.

Investigators in Canada say the labs are producing fentanyl for domestic users and for export to Australia, New Zealand and, they assume, the United States.

“It’d be hard to believe it’s not occurring,” said Philip Heard, commander of the organized crime unit for police in Vancouver, a city hard-hit by fentanyl overdose deaths. “Most police leaders I’ve spoken to believe our production outstrips what our domestic demand is.”

The Canadian labs are a curveball for U.S. authorities whose efforts to combat fentanyl are focused on the southern border with Mexico. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has installed about $800 million worth of powerful scanning and detection equipment at land border crossings since 2019. Nearly all that technology has been deployed along the U.S. southern border, where CBP confiscated nearly 27,000 pounds of fentanyl during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the most ever.

A fentanyl lab was discovered in October 2023 at a rural property in Mission, British Columbia. (Mission Royal Canadian Mounted Police)

Republican lawmakers in recent months have called for U.S. military strikes in Mexico targeting fentanyl traffickers and drug labs. The spread of fentanyl production to Canada suggests traffickers there are poised to benefit if Mexican suppliers get squeezed. The lightly-patrolled U.S.-Canada border spans more than 5,500 miles — the longest international boundary between two nations in the world — and has few physical barriers.

Read the full article on the Washington Post website.