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?