Buyer be­ware

The Compass - - Editorial -

It must have been a night­mare for po­lice. Satur­day, March 10th: a 7:30 a.m. 911 call leads to the dis­cov­ery of two men, 21 and 24, who are taken from a house and brought to hospi­tal af­ter an ap­par­ent drug over­dose.

At 9:45 a.m., two men, 27 and 31, are found to have over­dosed at another house. One dies.

At 10:30 a.m., a 911 call sum­mons po­lice to a house where a 25-year-old woman is un­re­spon­sive and a 48-year-old woman is dead, both from ap­par­ent drug over­doses.

Three hours, six sus­pected over­doses. Two peo­ple dead, one in a coma.

That city was Saska­toon, where po­lice took the un­usual step on the week­end of do­ing what’s called a “street re­call” - warn­ing users that the co­caine they were buy­ing from deal­ers might be laced with lethal amounts of fen­tanyl. Any­one who thought they might have some was urged to sur­ren­der it to the po­lice sta­tion - no ques­tions asked, no pos­ses­sion charges laid.

And then the po­lice went one step fur­ther and is­sued a warn­ing: “Saska­toon Po­lice Ser­vice is ap­peal­ing to mem­bers of the pub­lic if you have pur­chased co­caine from a dealer which goes by the name ‘Lil Joe,’ ‘Joe Bro’ or have made con­tact with the dealer with the cel­lu­lar num­ber 306-881-7300 that the dosage of co­caine you have pur­chased might be laced with Fen­tanyl and has the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing a lethal dose.”

Saska­toon Po­lice Supt. Dave Hayes told the me­dia it was an ac­tion the force had never taken be­fore.

Three peo­ple have since been ar­rested, though po­lice aren’t say­ing whether ei­ther of them was Lil Joe or Joe Bro.

The de­ci­sion to name the dealer raises in­ter­est­ing ques­tions and is an in­di­ca­tion of the sever­ity of the fen­tanyl prob­lem in this coun­try.

In nam­ing the dealer, did the po­lice es­sen­tially con­vict the per­son or peo­ple in pub­lic? No, since Lil Joe and Joe Bro are likely not the per­son’s/per­sons’ le­gal names. And Hayes said the an­nounce­ment was made in con­sul­ta­tion with both pro­vin­cial and fed­eral Crown at­tor­neys.

“We be­lieve that the pub­lic safety in­ter­ests are the greater need here,” the su­per­in­ten­dent told re­porters.

The big­ger ques­tion is, when faced with an opi­oid epi­demic, with the dead and dy­ing hav­ing in­gested some­thing they likely didn’t think they had pur­chased, what is the ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse from po­lice?

Can we ex­pect sim­i­lar calls in our own com­mu­ni­ties if the opi­oid cri­sis wors­ens? Could deal­ers here be charged with man­slaugh­ter if they sell drugs they know con­tain fen­tanyl and some­body dies? It’s hap­pened in other Cana­dian ju­ris­dic­tions.

Will lethal drugs be­come more of a prob­lem if mar­i­juana is le­gal­ized and pot deal­ers start sell­ing more pow­er­ful and more lu­cra­tive wares?

The po­lice in Saska­toon have upped the ante. It could be an in­struc­tive les­son for the rest of the coun­try.

Can we ex­pect sim­i­lar calls in our own com­mu­ni­ties if the opi­oid cri­sis wors­ens?

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