Fen­tanyl traf­fick­ing presents new chal­lenges for po­lice


Il­licit drugs have al­ways been a prob­lem in port cities, but ex­perts say the emer­gence of highly po­tent syn­thetic opi­oids that are fu­elling Bri­tish Columbia’s over­dose cri­sis are slip­ping through bor­ders in new ways, pre­sent­ing chal­lenges for law en­force­ment.

In­ter­na­tional reg­u­la­tions, on­line or­der­ing and the po­tency of the drug are among the fac­tors mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to pre­vent the drug from slip­ping through Canada’s bor­ders.

More than 1,000 peo­ple have died from il­licit drug over­doses in B.C. since Jan­uary 2016, many as a re­sult of the pow­er­ful opi­oids fen­tanyl and car­fen­tanil which law en­force­ment says largely comes from China.

Canada Border Ser­vices Agency says seizures of fen­tanyl at Van­cou­ver In­ter­na­tional Mail Cen­tre have more than dou­bled to 54 last year from 23 in 2015.

But RCMP na­tional drug pro­gram co-or­di­na­tor Sgt. Luc Chicoine said while lives are saved with every seizure, there’s no know­ing how much of a dent every con­fis­ca­tion of drugs makes.

“For ex­am­ple, if we seize 100 ki­los of a cer­tain drug that’s com­ing into the coun­try, was it only 100 ki­los com­ing in or was it a mil­lion ki­los?’’ he said. “We don’t have the ca­pa­bil­ity of iden­ti­fy­ing what is the full scope.’’

The high po­tency of fen­tanyl has al­lowed traf­fick­ers to trans­port smaller quan­ti­ties with other im­ports, on in­di­vid­u­als or through the mail, mak­ing it harder for agen­cies to de­tect.

Chicoine said peo­ple traf­fick­ing co­caine would need to bring in large quan­ti­ties. Three­quar­ters of a kilo­gram of pure co­caine once di­luted would only pro­duce one to two ki­los for street dis­tri­bu­tion.

“While fen­tanyl, by bring­ing in 100 grams of it, you can cut it 10 to 15 times and you can have one to one and a half ki­los of the sub­stance,’’ he said.

He said the com­bi­na­tion of high po­tency and to­day’s tech­nol­ogy means users or deal­ers can now or­der il­licit sub­stances from China on­line and have it de­liv­ered straight to their door, mak­ing it harder for po­lice to in­ter­cept.

Canada Border Ser­vices Agency said in a state­ment that de­tect­ing il­licit sub­stances is a pri­or­ity, and all pack­ages com­ing into Canada are opened and in­spected if nec­es­sary be­fore go­ing through the mail sys­tem.

The agency said it’s wait­ing on leg­isla­tive changes now be­fore Par­lia­ment that would al­low of­fi­cials to open and in­spect mail weigh­ing less than 30 grams, a prac­tice cur­rently pro­hib­ited due to pri­vacy con­cerns.

Chicoine said Van­cou­ver’s prox­im­ity to China has made it the epi­cen­tre of Canada’s over­dose cri­sis be­cause it’s of­ten the first land­ing point for opi­oids en­ter­ing the coun­try.

The RCMP have long had a re­la­tion­ship with Chi­nese of­fi­cials, which was re­newed last fall, to in­ves­ti­gate crime be­tween the coun­tries. But fen­tanyl use has not been a prob­lem in China, giv­ing lit­tle in­cen­tive for of­fi­cials to crack down on its man­u­fac­tur­ing there, Chicoine said.

China an­nounced ear­lier this month that it would out­law the sub­stance car­fen­tanil and three other syn­thetic opi­oids but it un­clear how that will in­flu­ence in­ter­na­tional traf­fick­ing.

Thomas Kerr, ad­dic­tions re­searcher and pro­fes­sor of medicine at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia, said it’s no ac­ci­dent Van­cou­ver’s ge­og­ra­phy is play­ing into the over­dose cri­sis.

“Peo­ple who work in the area of drug pol­icy have known for decades that no mat­ter which con­ti­nent you are on, port cities tend to have a higher avail­abil­ity of a greater di­ver­sity of drugs, and that those drugs also tend to be more po­tent,’’ he said.

Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity crim­i­nol­ogy pro­fes­sor Neil Boyd said the use of opi­ates in the Van­cou­ver area dates back to the late 1800s.

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