A machine used for chemical analysis, with a slight resemblance to a printer, thrummed repeatedly as technicians at a drug testing site in Victoria, British Columbia, prepared to open its doors to local drug users.

Most of the samples handed to Substance Drug Checking, a lab led by researchers at the University of Victoria, were found to have contained fentanyl, the synthetic opioid driving fatal overdoses in the province to record levels.

Alarm about the spread of fentanyl is entrenched in how Canada and the United States talk about the opioid crisis. But in Mexico, the government has repeatedly denied that fentanyl abuse is spilling over its border and has asserted that the problem is exclusive to its northern neighbors.

Weak detection efforts, in public health settings or during drug death investigations, have meant that the extent of fentanyl’s reach in Mexico is largely an open question.

“We don’t know, because we’re not looking for it,” said Xóchitl Cárdenas, a forensic services chemist at the attorney general’s office in Sonora State, along Mexico’s northern border, where experts say the fentanyl crisis is acute.

Ms. Cárdenas was one of about a dozen Mexican forensic scientists, medical researchers and government workers who traveled to Vancouver and Victoria this week to learn how Canadian agencies are responding to the toxic drug supply. She watched as Pablo Gonzalez, a graduate student running the lab, listed the capabilities of the drug analysis software being developed by the university, which can spit out drug test results in under 30 minutes.


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