Canadian province seeks tighter restrictions on pill presses

The provincial government of British Columbia is planning to introduce restrictions on who can own tablet presses to try to help tackle an epidemic of opioid abuse.

The new Pill Press and Related Equipment Control Act is designed to restrict “ownership, possession and use” of equipment that can be used to make illicit drugs, including automated pill presses, gel cap machines and pharmaceutical mixers.

If it passes, only individuals organizations licensed to do so will be able to own and operate the machinery, and these will have to be registered and undergo criminal records. Anyone found to be in breach of the restrictions will face “significant penalties,” says the government.

Canada already has federal-level legislation that requires registration of tablet presses and gel cap machines on import into the country, a measure first adopted by Alberta, but BC’s government feels this does not go far enough as there are no limitations on who can own the equipment.

Canada, along with the US and countries in Europe, are facing an opioid crisis with escalating numbers of deaths among people buying counterfeit opioid analgesics that are made with fentanyl, a schedule II prescription opioid approved for use in severe pain that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Figures released for the Drug Enforcement Administration last November suggest that out of the more than 64,000 opioid overdose deaths in the US last year, 20,145 were attributed to fentanyl and synthetic opioids, more than double the number of deaths attributed to these drugs in 2015.

Earlier this month, a man in North Carolina was detained on a $1m bond after being caught in the act of using a tablet press in a makeshift facility to produce hundreds of illicit pills, including counterfeits of prescription drugs such as benzodiazepine anxiety drug alprazolam, opioid analgesic oxycodone and Adderall (mixed amphetamine salts), usually prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“Police have asked for more control and monitoring of who has use of pill presses,” said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General of BC. The province says it is currently seeing 3-4 deaths every day due to illicit drug overdoses.

“This bill is critical in bolstering police efforts to disrupt the supply chain and get counterfeit pills off of the streets and out of the hands of those who recklessly distribute death-dealing drugs.”

The province is taking additional measures to tackle the illicit opioid menace, including the creation of new anti-trafficking teams in enforcement agencies including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and investing C$322m ($250m) in a new overdose emergency response centre.

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