A Saskatoon man charged with selling fentanyl is warning potential users to stay away from the potentially deadly drug, which he quickly became addicted to.
He's on remand now in a Saskatchewan jail, awaiting trial on trafficking charges. The accused dealer, whom we'll call Max, spoke to CBC News on the condition his identity not be revealed, because he fears for his safety behind bars.
Max spoke candidly about how he became addicted, where the drug comes from and how drug dealers view fentanyl dealers — and why the body count from overdoses keeps rising.
"It's a horrible drug. It's more addicting than anything. It'll ruin you. Stay away from it," he said.
Road to addiction
Max already had several brushes with police for alleged cocaine dealing when he came across fentanyl for the first time in 2010.
Like many people who use pills on the street, what he ended up snorting wasn't what he had expected.
"I thought they were OxyContin. That's how it started, I tried OxyContin first when they were still around, and then all of a sudden there were these green ones," he said.
"I went through a couple different episodes. I know a lot of people that have overdosed on these, but it was mostly because they were mixing drugs. Like, people snort coke with their Oxys. They were, like mixing them and they would OD. Some people died."
Max said that he quickly became addicted.
Pills vs. patches
He overdosed, but soon developed a tolerance for the synthetic narcotic, which doctors describe as 100 times more potent than morphine. He'd grind up the pills and snort the powder.
It's this potency that made it attractive to drug dealers, especially when they realized that fentanyl also came in a transdermal patch.
Dealers began heating the patches and extracting the drug. They'd dilute it with another powder and press their own pills. Suddenly there were different classes of fentanyl-laced pills on the street — a purer form, and those that were cut down.
"I lost everybody that was around me that was hooked on it, including somebody I love, and I seen friends die." – Man charged with selling fentanyl
Max said this is the reason the fatal overdoses began — some pills are far more potent than others.
"These young kids that are trying the ones that are cut three into one don't know the difference between that and the stronger ones," he said.
The man doesn't believe that the drugs are coming from China, the U.S. or British Columbia. For authorities to chase suppliers outside the province is a mistake, he said.
"I think they're just chasing a ghost that doesn't exist."
Max thinks opportunistic local dealers are buying fentanyl patches and pressing the pills in Saskatoon.
Fentanyl is prescribed to cancer patients or people with chronic pain.
Max said anyone buying and snorting the pills should not expect any warnings or guidance from dealers.
He agrees with the assessment of police. Buying drugs on the street is like playing roulette, and the sellers are not concerned about the customers.
"I don't think they care. It's drugs, right? They're looking at it from the point of money, monetary gain," he said.
"You do it on your own choice, you're in that scene."
A bust, and a break
Max stopped taking the pills when he was arrested.
"I came here and it was a rough battle, but I got off of it. I'm kind of glad that I'm here," he said.
"The drug ruined everything. I lost everything that I had worked hard for. I had businesses, I lost it all to get high. And it was gross. I lost everybody that was around me that was hooked on it, including somebody I love, and I seen friends die.… [When] I got arrested when I did, it was a blessing in disguise."
Max will appear in court to face his charges later this year.