An Ontario city hit hard by fentanyl overdoses is marking a year without any deaths related to the drug, thanks to a program that a local politician hopes to spread province-wide.

Fentanyl is an opiate prescribed to treat severe pain. But the powerful painkiller has been increasingly diverted to drug users who enjoy its heroin-like high – a dangerous practice implicated in at least 655 deaths in Canada between 2009 and 2014.

The drug is distributed by pharmacists on time-release skin patches, but bits of the drug can remain on the patch even after the prescription holder is finished. The used patches are sometimes stolen or sold to drug users, who may chew or smoke the scraped-off drug.

After the community of North Bay, Ont., experienced at least 15 fentanyl overdoses in six years, the North Bay and Area Community Drug Strategy Committee, in consultation with physicians and pharmacists, came up with Patch 4 Patch.

The program, which has since been adopted in a number of communities, requires legitimate users to hand back their used fentanyl patches to pharmacists before new patches are provided.

The MPP for the region, Vic Fedeli, said Patch 4 Patch has saved lives and reduced crime in his community.

“Over the last 12 months we have had no deaths in the City of North Bay from fentanyl so this has been a complete success,” he said.

The Progressive Conservative MPP has introduced Bill 33 in Ontario legislature, which would require pharmacists to only dispense fentanyl after a doctor had called or faxed in a prescription, and only after patients had turned in their used patches. Pharmacists would also be required to check for tampering of patches.

Lisa MacEachern has already adopted such a program at her pharmacy in Guelph, Ont. As a result, she says fewer patches are ending up on the streets.

“It’s our responsibility to make sure that stuff isn’t out there for abuse," she said.

With a report by CTV Medical Specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip