The seizure of half a million lethal doses of highly concentrated fentanyl on Dallas Road shows the inroads organized crime is making on Vancouver Island and throughout B.C., Victoria’s police chief said Thursday.
“There are many organized crime groups operating in our communities. They are highly organized and highly sophisticated and these deadly and poisonous drugs are hitting our streets far too often,” said Police Chief Del Manak.
Manak made the remarks at a news conference announcing the seizure of a kilogram of an unusually high-concentration fentanyl by the Victoria police strike force.
The seizure comes amid a provincial opioid crisis that has seen more than 1,000 people die of illicit-drug overdoses this year alone, said Manak.
“Over 1,000. That’s just remarkable and it’s unacceptable,” he said, adding many of the deaths are the result of the toxic drugs that are circulating, such as the seized fentanyl.
It’s a crisis that affects people from all walks of life and across all socioeconomic groups, he said. “It reaches into our high schools. It reaches into our homes. It is killing our families and our friends.”
The Victoria police strike force began targeting organized crime in July, said spokesman Const. Cam MacIntyre. After investigating for several months, they were able to identify a supply chain of high-concentration fentanyl that was being trafficked locally.
On Oct. 21, strike force officers, working with the Greater Victoria Response Team, arrested a man in a parking lot on Dallas Road and seized the kilogram of fentanyl. The investigation is still unfolding, but officers believe the man is associated with organized drug trafficking. He was released from custody and is expected to be charged with drug trafficking.
The strike force will also be recommending drug-trafficking charges against two men from Surrey and a man and a woman from Vancouver.
The wholesale value of the fentanyl is $140,000, but the street value is more than $1 million, said MacIntyre.
The seizure will make a dent in the street supply, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg of what’s happening in the community, said Manak, and for every organized crime group or drug dealer who gets caught, there’s someone waiting to take their place.
Still, taking any toxic drug off the street saves lives, said the chief, adding he wishes he had more resources to dedicate to the problem.
Drug analysis by Health Canada revealed the seized drugs to have a concentration of 90 per cent fentanyl, which is rare and extremely troubling, said Acting Insp. Conor King, who said typically, samples are found to contain 10 per cent fentanyl.
Last year, only one sample seized by police in Canada had a purity of between 75 and 100 per cent, he said. “In 2020, we’re now up to seven samples with that extreme fentanyl concentration, which is a concerning trend,” said King, a provincially recognized drug expert. “In the midst of an opioid overdose pandemic, the dangerously high concentration of this seized fentanyl, in this amount, would undoubtedly have resulted in more deaths.”
Post-mortem toxicology screens reveal that 15 per cent of those who die from drug overdoses have extreme fentanyl concentrations, said King.
This week, Island Health extended its toxic drug alert for a second week in Victoria.
The fentanyl seized by police would have been distributed across Vancouver Island, if it had stayed in the hands of organized crime, King said. It would have been broken down into smaller amounts and sold off to other drug dealers, who would have broken it down into even smaller amounts, he said.
“It would have made for many thousands and thousands of doses of fentanyl across the Island,” said King. “We are continually making every effort to pull this drug off the street … but there are not enough of us to keep up with them.”
Fentanyl manufactured in China is still arriving in Canada, while police believe Mexican cartel groups are manufacturing large amounts of fentanyl that is eventually making its way into the country, said the drug expert. Meanwhile, organized crime groups based in Canada, particularly in parts of B.C., are manufacturing fentanyl as well.
“Those three factors create a difficult situation. The source of fentanyl, rather than being curtailed internationally, is growing internationally, which is incredibly troubling for us.”
Victoria police has joined other police departments across B.C. in advocating for a safe drug supply and addictions treatment.