Crystal meth laced with fentanyl circulating in Outaouais, health centre says

A supervised consumption site in the Outaouais is detecting a dangerous mixture of crystal meth contaminated with fentanyl that's been circulating in the region in recent weeks.

Every sample tested in last 3 weeks was laced with dangerous opioid

A hand holds a small baggy containing shards of clear crystal meth.
Methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth in its solid form, has a distinct crystal-like appearance, setting it apart from other common street drugs. (Kaesler Media/Shutterstock)

A supervised consumption site in the Outaouais says it's finding a dangerous mixture of crystal meth contaminated with fentanyl.

Adrien St-Onge, co-ordinator of the site at the Bureau régional d'action sida (BRAS) in Gatineau, said it's not the first time it's seen this kind of drug combination, but the quantities are alarming. 

Ten different crystal meth samples have been tested in the last three weeks and St-Onge said traces of fentanyl were found in every one. 

Crystal meth, the solid form of methamphetamine, is an illegal, addictive stimulant that causes "an intense surge of euphoria" that affects the heart and brain.

The very powerful prescription opioid painkiller fentanyl, while able to be abused on its own, can be cut into other street drugs to make batches much much stronger at a lower cost to the dealer.

That unexpected strength is part of why fentanyl is so dangerous and a driver of the opioid overdose crisis.

Across the river in Ottawa, the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre said it's not seeing similar test results to Gatineau but it could only be a matter of time before it does.

"Because the market is so unpredictable … we can see a flurry of overdoses from one day to the next," said Derrick St John, the centre's Oasis program manager. The program not only offers supervised use, but also counseling and medicine.

Man stands in hallway with arms crossed
Since October, Derrick St John has tested 300 samples of drugs at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre. Thirty indicated crystal meth and none of those found fentanyl. (Celeste Decaire/CBC News)

Since Oct. 1, that health centre's drug testing machine has analyzed 300 different kinds of drugs including fentanyl, cocaine, ketamine, MDMA and crystal meth.

Thirty of those samples have come back as crystal meth and none of those found fentanyl or the even more potent carfentanil.

"This device tests only a very small sample of the drug, so it's possible that if the sample is contaminated, we're just not seeing it in the part that we're testing," St John said.

People are looking for fentanyl, even though they're playing with their life.​- Louise Beaudoin, Ottawa Inner City Health

That's part of the problem, he added.

"For someone purchasing crystal meth, they could do one … successful hit of that, and then the fifth hit is the one that has fentanyl." 

The key message is that no street drug can be considered safe and the risk of cross-contamination is high.

"There is no quality control, so you just never know. There could be a little, there could be a lot. We just don't know," St John said. 

Community talks to each other

"People are looking for fentanyl, even though they're playing with their life," said Louise Beaudoin, nursing manager at Ottawa Inner City Health.

Many users, Beaudoin said, choose to adjust their dose based on what drug testing reveals.

The community also talks to each other and will warn of a bad batch or a potentially off-putting supply. 

"They will say 'Hey, this colour is extremely strong, watch out. Cut your dose in half or even less,'" Beaudoin said. 

A man types at a laptop.
The Scatter Series 1 can test over 20 different types of drugs and detect what's in them including fentanyl, carfentanil and then non-opioid benzodiazapine, which does not respond to naloxone in an overdose. (Celeste Decaire/CBC)

In a statement, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) said it is aware of the presence of fentanyl in much of the city's unregulated drug supply. It's seen a significant increase in harms caused by fatal and non-fatal drug overdoses. 

The health unit said an increasingly toxic and unpredictable supply of unregulated drugs has worsened the situation. 

OPH reported 1,076 opioid-related visits to hospital emergency departments from January to October 2023.

The city's 93 opioid overdose deaths in the first six months of last year are more than the number of reported COVID-19 deaths in the same span.


Celeste Decaire

CBC Reporter

Celeste Decaire is a reporter with CBC Ottawa. She can be reached at and on her Twitter account @celestedecaire.