Fentanyl an issue provincewide

A growing number of fentanyl pills are making their way onto Red Deer city streets.

A growing number of fentanyl pills are making their way onto Red Deer city streets.

Red Deer RCMP Const. Jeremy Bowler of the Organized Crime and Intelligence Unit said police are not seeing tons of the potent fake oxycontin prescription painkiller but they are hearing about its presence.

“It’s certainly here for sure,” said Bowler.

Mike Tucker, Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams spokesperson, said Calgary police also say they did not come across many pills before the $5-million drug bust that included 11,597 fentanyl tablets in Calgary on Thursday.

“The fentanyl issue is provincewide,” said Tucker. “It’s popping up in communities more and more. It’s going to be affecting communities across the province.”

Tucker said organized crime is responsible for bringing in the fentanyl, which is being sold as the painkiller oxycontin to the streets. For many years, oxycontin was a huge problem on the streets.

But in 2012 after lobbying from Canadian chiefs of police, drug makers altered the formula of oxycontin, creating the new drug OxyNeo, which made it more difficult for users to abuse the prescription drug. Tucker said the users were unable to crush it to snort or inject.

“That changed everything,” said Tucker. “All of a sudden oxycontin had disappeared. Here’s this new drug but people couldn’t abuse it the same way.”

But now Tucker said organized crime is pressing fentanyl to look like the old oxycontin.

Tucker said it’s not a case of a bad batch with the pills. He said fentanyl is incredibly strong and people have no idea what they are consuming. Fentanyl is believed to be 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 40 to 50 times more potent than heroin.

According to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, there were 61 deaths in 2014 where fentanyl was a cause or contributing factor, of which 16 were in Edmonton, 11 were in Calgary, and 34 were in the rest of the province (considered rural). In 2011, there were six deaths (three in Edmonton and three in rural areas.

Information on the number of deaths Red Deer and Central Alberta was available on Friday, but officials confirmed there have been deaths here.

Up until a few months ago, Bowler had only come across fentanyl patches. A fentanyl adhesive patch is placed on the skin to deliver the drug to control pain.

But Bowler said they are beginning to seize them during more and more arrests.

“It’s a relatively small marketplace,” said Bowler. “There’s only so many opiate users in town but that’s on the rise as well. Anyone who would use heroin or oxycontin, this would be in their wheelhouse.”

crhyno@reddeeradvocate.ca