Jaan Vaart remembers the summer that fentanyl hit Estonia.
Already addicted to heroin, Mr. Vaart recalls being only vaguely aware that his dealer was giving him something new. He was more concerned about getting his fix.
If the high from fentanyl felt familiar, the difference between this new drug and heroin soon became clear.
“I overdosed two times that week,” he says, “and a third time later that month.”
He knew from friends and from what he saw in the news that people were dying, and he wanted to stop. Instead, he grew more hooked. Soon he was using it up to six times a day. He dropped out of school and became isolated from his old friends and family. To feed his addiction, he turned to crime. Eventually, he ended up in prison.
Of all the former Soviet republics, Estonia might seem the least likely for Mr. Vaart’s story to have taken place. The tiny country, perched on the Baltic Sea next door to Russia and looking across to Finland, is a beacon of success in a region of political and economic instability.
It is among the world’s most wired countries and is recognized as one of Europe’s most important incubators for high-tech startups. A member of the euro currency zone since 2011, it is consistently ranked as one of the European Union’s fastest growing economies.
But it also outperforms in a far darker measurement: Estonia has the European Union’s biggest fentanyl-abuse problem.
Unlike Canada, where the deadly scope of the fentanyl crisis is only now coming into focus, Estonia has been dealing with the problem for more than a decade. The country’s response – which was slow off the mark and only became focused specifically on fentanyl after the crisis drew the world’s attention – could offer a cautionary tale for Canada, where a Globe and Mail investigation has found governments of all levels have been similarly slow to act.
What Canada can learn from tiny Estonia's huge fentanyl problem (1)