Nfld. & Labrador

Fighting fentanyl: Police provide update 1 month after overdose cluster

The rise of fentanyl is growing with the appetite for heroin in the St. John's area, but one police officer says it's buyer beware.

'Ultimate goal of a drug dealer is to make money — they're not caring or worrying about the people using it'

Sgt. Steve Knight, an officer with the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, says the appetite for heroin is growing in the St. John's area. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

The rise of fentanyl is growing with the appetite for heroin in the St. John's area, but one police officer says it's buyer beware. 

Sgt. Steve Knight, an officer with the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, provided an update on the fight against opioids one month after a cluster of fentanyl-related overdoses was revealed by public health officials. 

"Right now we have a lot of cocaine on the streets. Prescription pills have taken off quite a bit," Knight told CBC News.

"The heroin and fentanyl aspect is relatively new."

Not manufactured here, police say

Knight said there are a lot of people in the province misusing illegal medications, and it has become a big problem.

Now, users are purchasing "bad heroin" that's mixed with fentanyl and in one case has proven to be fatal. 

Since April 1, there has been one recorded fentanyl-related death, and 21 overdoses where the users have survived. However, that number is estimated to be much higher because people can be saved at home with naloxone kits, instead of going to the hospital. 

A member of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit examines packages containing drugs, including fentanyl. The drugs were seized from a man in Conception Bay South earlier this month. (CFSEU)

Since police and public health officials noted a spike in opioid-related overdoses in April, some charges have been laid, and heroin with traces of fentanyl has been seized.

'It's bad heroin coming in mixed with fentanyl. And people are trying to pass it off as good quality heroin but that's not the case.'- Sgt. Steve Knight

The problem isn't isolated to St. John's, either, Knight says.

Bay St. George RCMP confirmed two weeks ago that fake Percocet tablets seized in the Stephenville area contained fentanyl.

"From our stand point, fentanyl is being mixed with other drugs. It's being masked as one thing and sold as something else," he said. 

"We're seeing both powder-form and pills. It's coming in both ways."

Appetite growing for heroin

As for how the drug is getting to streets on an island province, Knight said he believes there's more than one source and that it's being shipped and trafficked here. 

"It's bad heroin coming in mixed with fentanyl. And people are trying to pass it off as good quality heroin but that's not the case."

Heroin has been seen in the province before, he said, but the appetite didn't seem to be there until now. 

Bay St. George RCMP say labratory testing has confirmed that fentanyl was contained in fake Percocet tablets seized in the Stephenville area. (RCMP)

"There's always someone who will try and bring something in to try, to get a new trend going and make money that way," he said. "The ultimate goal of a drug dealer is to make money — they're not caring or worrying about the people using it."

Finding the source of the tainted drugs can be difficult and comes with its own set of challenges, but Knight said officers have their own methods of investigation.

Knight said he has spoken to some of the users who have overdosed and is encouraging anyone who has an opioid overdose to seek medical treatment. 

"It's an addiction and it's a sickness and they need help for what they're into but these people don't want to die. They don't have a death wish," he said.

"There's no ingredients labels on packaging that comes from a drug dealer ... Buyer beware kind of thing. You're taking something you don't know and it could result in death."

CBC Newfoundland and Labrador is hosting a live discussion on Facebook Tuesday at 7 p.m. NT on fentanyl and opioid use in the province. Join in on the conversation here. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ariana Kelland

Investigative reporter

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's. She is working as a member of CBC's Atlantic Investigative Unit.

now