Police fear fewer fentanyl imports don’t signal the end of the overdose crisis

RCMP say it’s just as likely that criminal are getting more clever

Despite fewer fentanyl seizures from shipments being flown and mailed to B.C. last year, police warn that the amount of the deadly opioid being smuggled in might not be decreasing.

Insp. Rob Parker, who heads up RCMP E Division’s federal serious and organized crime unit, said Thursday that although imports tracked by the Canada Border Security Agency have decreased by 20 per cent in 2017, that doesn’t mean the opioid overdose is letting up

According to figures obtained from the CBSA, 56 seizures resulted in 10,661 grams of fentanyl seized at by mail or at the airport in 2017.

The previous year, 13,701 grams were seized over 55 seizures.

Parker said that while the decreasing amounts look to be at odds with the the opioid crisis that has gripped B.C. for close to two years, “obviously it would be counterintuitive to assume that they’re getting everything.”

The CBSA statistics provided only measure what comes into the province at the Vancouver International Mail Centre and Vancouver International Airport cargo centre.

Parker said drug dealers often bring in fentanyl via land and air borders. The fentanyl data provided by the CBSA only showed air and mail imports; however, seizures of general narcotics by land, sea, air and rail dropped by about half between 2016 and 2017.

Parker told Black Press that from what he and his team have seen, it’s too early to assume fentanyl imports are slowing down.

“Sadly, I think it’s still early days in the fentanyl opioid crisis,” he said, noting that a fewer seizures are as likely to be proof of more clever drug dealers as they are to show a real decrease in drugs going in.

The latest statistics available show that in B.C. 1,208 people have died from opioid overdose-related deaths in the first 10 months of 2017. Of those, 83 per cent are linked to fentanyl.

Overdose-related deaths have nearly doubled since the previous year: from January to October 2016, 683 people died. In the first 10 months of 2015, 402 people died.

The BC Coroners service has linked the increase in overdose deaths to the increase in fentanyl in B.C.’s communities, citing a 136 per cent increase in fentanyl-linked deaths in the first 10 months of 2017, compared to the first 10 months of 2016.

‘The economics are frightening’

Parker said fentanyl’s potency – 100 times stronger than morphine – makes it so alluring to drug dealers. Drug dealers are now mixing pure fentanyl or fentanyl analogues with buffering agents that can stretch mere grams of the deadly opioid into much more profitable quantities.

“We’re seeing fentanyl purchased in a pure format being mixed with a buffering-type agent, extending the quantity,” said Parker. “They’re turning a small amount of fentanyl into what’s being held out as larger amount of cocaine or heroin.”

Police worry that the profitability of fentanyl is contributing to the gang-style shootings seen across the region.

Four people have died in reported gang-related violence in the first three weeks of 2018. Three were targeted; a fourth, 15-year-old Alfred Wong, was hit by a stray bullet while driving by a shootout in Vancouver.

“There’s obviously a connection to organized crime, trafficking and narcotics that we need to be concerned about.”

It’s coming from inside the country

Police are also beginning to fear that some fentanyl is being produced domestically.

“That’s absolutely a possibility,” said Parker.

“There is some evidence that there is a threat that it’s being manufactured… in Canada. The RCMP definitely harbour some concerns.”

In B.C., which has seen the worst fatal overdoses in Canada, that concern is escalated.

“It could be potentially related to the volume and the crisis within B.C.,” said Parker.

“I don’t think we’re at a point where I could say it’s absolutely happening at this level and here’s what we’ve seized.”

Parker said that while the RCMP have a variety of investigations of the go, they couldn’t provide firm numbers at this point.


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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