Fentanyl trafficking needs to be focus of enforcement, says B.C. police services director

The number of deaths so far this year from suspected illicit drug overdoses has soared to over 1,100. The B.C. Overdose Task Force is searching for better ways to prevent the trafficking of fentanyl nation-wide.

A B.C. Task Force wants more focus on stopping fentanyl trafficking rather than reviving overdose victims

A drug user named Paul prepares to inject himself, even though he knows he could end up overdosing on fentanyl. (Cliff Shim/CBC)

The B.C. Overdose Task Force is searching for better ways to prevent the nation-wide trafficking of fentanyl in order to help prevent overdose deaths.

So far this year, the number of deaths in B.C. from suspected illicit drug overdoses has soared to over 1,100

The most recent attempt to fight B.C.'s overdose crisis introduces a way to check drugs for the potent opioid and its analogue carfentanil, among other substances, in the hopes of preventing more deaths.

But the other side to the overdose crisis is the supply of illicit drugs. 

Clayton Pecknold, director of Police Services in B.C. and co-chair of the B.C. Overdose Task Force, says there needs to be a more proactive approach to dealing with the fentanyl crisis.

"The police have definitely embraced a harm reduction approach to this," Pecknold told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

"But ... there's poison in the drug system and it's coming in from outside the country, and a certain amount of focused law enforcement needs to be involved."

Drugs in the mail

The largest source of fentanyl flowing into the country has been tracked to China, according to Pecknold, and most of it makes its way across the border through mailed packages.

Pecknold said that a drug so toxic in small quantities, with high profit and that is easily concealed, is a "game changer" for law enforcement.

"It's all of those factors that have created this somewhat perfect storm that's a real challenge for policing and law enforcement to deal with," he said.

Pecknold has seen more participation recently from the federal government, the RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency and the various local government departments all contributing to the conversation.

He hopes to find solutions through legislation.

"We're not going to arrest our way out of this. But certainly a high-level pressure on those who are dealing and on the network that's bringing it into the country needs to be maintained, and we're working really hard to give the police the tools they need to do that."

Jennifer Breakspear with the Portland Hotel Society agrees that there needs to be an approach that doesn't just deal with responding to overdoses, and cuts off supply. 

But Breakspear says that approach can include tactics like legalizing illicit drugs, which has seen some success in countries like Portugal.

"What we need is a proactive action, which is cut off the stream of the poison. Make sure there's a safe supply of these substances that these people need," she said.

"We do that by making it legal. What we do right there is we provide a safe supply and we start to destigmatize the entire issue."

With files from the CBC's On The Coast

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said Jennifer Breakspear agreed law enforcement needs to focus more on cutting the supply of fentanyl. In fact, she said drug users could access a safer supply if illicit drugs were legalized.
    Nov 11, 2017 4:16 PM PT