Calgary police seize 35,321 fentanyl pills in record drug bust

Calgary police made a massive fentanyl bust just before Christmas, seizing a record 35,321 pills from a home in the southwest — more than three times the previous benchmark.

A Calgary man was arrested and charged with more than two dozen drug and weapons-related offences

Calgary police estimate that the 35,321 fentanyl pills seized in a bust Dec. 23, some of which are seen here, have a street value of $706,000. (Stephanie Wiebe/CBC)

Calgary police made a massive fentanyl bust just before Christmas, seizing a record 35,321 pills from a home in the southwest — more than three times the previous benchmark.

Search warrants were executed Dec. 23 at a Richmond Road S.W. home and on a 2011 Jeep Compass connected to the case, which had been reported stolen out of Strathmore, Alta.

Along with the fentanyl pills — which police said are worth an estimated $706,000 on the street — the search turned up cocaine worth an estimated $40,000, methamphetamine worth an estimated $22,000, heroin worth an estimated $9,000 and varying amounts of marijuana, MDMA, Oxycodone tablets and morphine.

Another 70 pills were found, which police are still working to identify. A search of the Jeep also turned up $37,115 in cash.

'A huge win' for police

"This is a huge win for the Calgary Police Service," said Insp. Mark Hatchette.

"I'm not going to sit here and say this is going to create a vacuum where there's no fentanyl on the street to be purchased," he said. "What I am saying is there are 35,000-plus pills that will not be used by addicts, and they're not going to die because of that."

Police said a man was found inside a bedroom in the home and was reaching for a shotgun when he was arrested.

Some of the firearms seized by Calgary police in a recent bust. (Stephanie Wiebe/CBC)

Seven weapons were seized, including three 12-gauge shotguns, two rifles, a handgun and a crossbow. Various amounts of ammunition and multiple sets of body armour were also found in the home.

The weapons are being tested to see if they were used in any other crimes, said Hatchette, adding the handgun was not reported stolen.

"Because of that, we believe it was smuggled into the country illegally," he said.

"It's not registered at all, to anybody. These are types of things we see in these criminal organizations where these firearms become a valuable commodity to protect the product you see in front of you."

'Top of the totem pole'

David Hillson Pratico, 31, of Calgary is now facing more than two dozen drug and weapons-related offences.

Hatchette said police believe Pratico is part of a criminal group.

"We believe he is top of the totem pole for this organization," he said.

"We will be following it up and looking to see if there are other people out there like him. We would be remiss to think there aren't. There are, and we have multiple operations on the go with different individuals."

Prior to this, the largest fentanyl busts in Alberta, in terms of pills seized, included:

11,597 — Calgary, February 2015
3,200  — Leduc County, December 2015
2,800  — Fort McMurray, June 2015
2,771  — Calgary, October 2016
2,000  — Edmonton, June 2016
1,866  — Grande Prairie, October 2014

193 deaths in Alberta

Between January and September of this year, 193 Albertans died from suspected overdoses linked to fentanyl, according to numbers provided by Alberta Health Services.

Calgary saw 82 suspected fentanyl overdose deaths during that time, while Edmonton saw 52.

Tessa Johnston, a former addict who has been clean for years, told CBC News the size of the seizure is impressive, but helping addicts and offering treatment programs is also important.

"I think if you start looking into recovery more and the addict itself, then drug dealers have less need to supply all of it," she said.