Organized crime 'killing people' with fentanyl,' police say

Addicts, even first time users, crush them up, then either snort the powder or mix and inject it. Then, in many cases, they die.

Fifteen times more powerful than heroin, drug linked to 120 deaths in Alberta last year

These deadly little "greenies" were taken off Edmonton streets during a recent drug bust. (CBC)

Each little green pill costs $80 on the street.

Addicts, even first time users, crush them up, then either snort the powder or mix and inject it.

Then, in many cases, they die.

That warning comes from Darcy Strang, an inspector with ALERT, whose team just took more than 2,000 “greenies,” the nickname for fentanyl pills, off Edmonton streets during a $550,000 drug bust.

'Two thousand bullets'

“If you look at the 2,041 pills here,” Strang said at a news conference on Wednesday, “I would say that you might as well look at those as bullets. Two thousand bullets. Because each of those pills very well could kill somebody.”

Last year, the dangerous opioid painkiller was linked to 120 deaths in Alberta. That's up from six deaths in 2011.

Fentanyl is 15 to 20 times more powerful than heroin. Dosages are measured in micrograms - that’s one one-millionth of a gram.

Problem is, Strang said, users have no idea who pressed the pills, or how powerful they are.

“There could be two micrograms in a pill,” he said. “There could be 300 micrograms in a pill. So, you take one and you think, ‘Wow, gee whiz, that’s not that bad. It had not much effect for me.’

“And then you take another one, and it kills you.”
Insp. Darcy Strang, holding a bag of fentanyl pills taken off Edmonton streets during a recent drug bust by ALERT. (CBC)

The drug is very profitable. Pills sold on the street are 99 per cent caffeine. “Wholesalers” buy them for $15 to $20 each and sell them to users for four times that amount.

The drug is easy to smuggle. Police think small bags are being shipped in from China or Mexico. A little goes a long, long way.

“A bag this big,” Strang said, making a circle by joining the fingers of both hands, “that will serve Alberta.”

In its most recent bust, the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team, made up of city police and RCMP, executed search warrants at four Edmonton homes and at a rural property in Redwater, Alta.

The drugs seized included:

  • 2,041 fentanyl pills;
  • 2.6 kilograms of cocaine;
  • 1 kilogram of methamphetamine;
  • and 468 grams of MDMA.

The team also seized two firearms and $91,000 in cash. Five people now face at least 30 drug-related criminal charges.

This is the first time ALERT has seized fentanyl in Edmonton.

But police across Alberta have seized record amounts of the drug in the past year, including 10,000 tablets in Grande Prairie last fall and 60,000 tablets west of Calgary in November.

Charges were laid recently after two fatal fentanyl overdoses on the Blood reserve in southern Alberta. Three residents of the reserve have been charged with trafficking and criminal negligence causing death.

“Organized crime right now,” Strang said, “is selling a product that is killing people.”


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