Drug mixture known as 'purple heroin' among kilos seized in Winnipeg bust
Potentially deadly mix of heroin, meth, other opiates shows need for drug-safety testing, nurse says
A potentially deadly concoction of various drugs known colloquially as "purple heroin" was seized by Winnipeg police at a house in St. Boniface as part of a bust that netted a cache of drugs worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The mix of heroin, meth, and powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil began appearing over the past year, said Insp. Max Waddell, head of the Winnipeg Police Service's guns and gangs unit.
Purple heroin is expensive — the quarter-kilogram seized by police is worth about $80,000 — and the mix of stimulants like meth and depressants like opioids makes it especially potent, Waddell said.
"The body is just pulled in both ways and I'm told, those who take this, it is just highly, highly addictive and the euphoria that you get from this is very overwhelming," he said.
The purple colour is a byproduct of the mixing process and people often buy the product thinking it is simply a more potent form of heroin, Waddell said.
The bust at the house on Guay Street on July 12 also included 2.8 kilograms of cocaine worth about $280,000 and 5.3 kilograms of methamphetamine worth about $530,000. The total estimated value of the drugs seized is $890,000.
Although police haven't made any arrests in connection with the drugs, Waddell said the investigation into the trafficking operation is ongoing and the bust will certainly have an impact.
The bust comes after police in Brandon, Man., reported two people overdosed on a combination of purple heroin and meth. Winnipeg police haven't found a link between the Brandon incident and the bust in Winnipeg, although they could have come from the same source, Waddell said.
Part of the danger lies in the fact that blocks of purple heroin contain "hot spots" where more potent drugs concentrate.
"A certain side or portion of this could have almost all the fentanyl or carfentanil in it, and that's really where the danger is, is that it's almost impossible to mix it evenly," Waddell said. "If you do choose to use this purple-coloured heroin mixture, you need to be very careful."
Testing drugs reduces risk, nurse says
The presence of purple heroin in Winnipeg shows how the drug culture is evolving and underscores the importance of testing drugs so users can know what they're taking, said a registered nurse provides harm-reduction services at concerts and festivals in Manitoba.
"This drug marketplace is changing quite quickly and people aren't able to keep up with what's on sale anymore," said Bryce Koch, one of the founders of Project Safe Audience. "Having good drug-checking services would allow individuals to take more control of what they put into their body."
Over the past few years, Project Safe Audience has offered drug-testing services at raves and other events, but there is currently no central location in Winnipeg where users can take their drugs to be tested, Koch said.
Much of the group's testing involves detecting meth that has been sold as other party drugs such as cocaine, but the group has been fundraising to purchase a piece of equipment that can detect opioids.
With the help of a number of other organizations, the group has raised the $50,000 needed to buy a Fourier-transform infrared spectrometer, a high-end and portable tester that could detect fentanyl among other substances.
"I can definitely see drug checking being here within the year," he said.
Koch couldn't say which other organizations are involved because the project is in its early stages. Once purchase, the equipment will be shared among the groups involved.
Naloxone could reduce the risk of an overdose from the opioids in purple heroin, but any meth or other substances in it would remain active and could still put the user at risk, Waddell said.