According to officials, fentanyl, a powerful and highly addictive synthetic opioid that has been responsible for hundreds of overdose deaths in Canada, is increasingly making its way into popular party drugs like cocaine and MDMA.

“I’m amazed to see more MDMA (and) ecstasy (testing) positive for fentanyl,” Alain Vincent, a pharmacist at STS Pain Pharmacy in downtown Victoria, B.C., told CTV News Vancouver Island.

The pharmacy, which helps drug users test their supplies for the presence of fentanyl, is now more surprised when party drugs test negative for the opioid.

“We are very worried that this crisis is far from over,” Dr. Richard Stanwick, chief medical health officer of the Vancouver Island Health Authority, told CTV News. “It continues and it’s taxing resources.”

On Vancouver Island alone, from January until the end of April, emergency rooms saw 689 visits related to opioid overdoses. That’s roughly 39 emergency room visits per week -- 1.4 times higher than a year ago, when the overdose crisis was declared a medical emergency.

“At the end of the day, we are still seeing rates that are higher than last year,” Stanwick said. “This could be because everything is now contaminated with fentanyl. And so you may be thinking you are taking cocaine or heroin, and the odds are that it may also contain fentanyl, and as a consequence, even with a stimulant, you may find yourself basically collapsing with a fentanyl overdose.”

But hope, which has been hard to come by in the opioid crisis, may be on the horizon. The University of Victoria is currently working with STS Pain Pharmacy to develop a relatively inexpensive handheld device that will not just screen party drugs for the presence of fentanyl, but will also test how much of the opioid has been added. Still, a huge concern for healthcare workers is casual drug users who may try to hide their substance use, meaning that many might not take the step of testing their supplies for fentanyl before using them.

“There’s much more (people) who use drugs than you think,” Vincent said. “And they’re not drug addicts.”

With a report from CTV Vancouver Island’s Chandler Grieve