'It's bad business to kill your clients, so why do that?': police consider rise in fentanyl

Street drugs are increasingly being cut with fentanyl, and west of Saskatchewan, every batch is potentially tainted, according to Calgary police.

Problem of drugs laced with fentanyl increases further west of Saskatchewan, but rise seen everywhere

Police are increasingly seeing street drugs cut with fentanyl, and Calgary Police Service Staff Sgt. Jason Walker said these opioids are more powerful and addictive than a range of other drugs found on the streets. (The Associated Press/Patrick Sison)

Street drugs are increasingly being cut with fentanyl, and west of Saskatchewan, every batch is potentially tainted, according to Calgary police.

"We're all one bad batch away from having a lot of people overdose and potentially die in a very short order," said Staff Sgt. Jason Walker, as he discussed a string of three deaths and overdoses Saskatoon police say is connected to the same batch of cocaine laced with fentanyl.  

According to Walker, there were over 450 fentanyl-related fatalities in Alberta last year. It's reached the point where it's rare for police in the city to issue warnings about potentially "bad batches" because all street drugs are falling into that category, he said.

"There are no safe batches out there in the Calgary streets, because everything is potentially being touched with fentanyl."

Regina Police Chief Evan Bray noted this week that Saskatchewan sees a fraction of the fentanyl cases in Alberta, which in turn sees fewer cases than neighbouring British Columbia.

Evan Bray, Regina police chief, warned marijuana dispensaries repeatedly that they would face charges for operating before the formal legalization of marijuana. (CBC News)

But it's clear Saskatchewan is not immune to the problems of fentanyl, with drugs passing through many hands and each time running the risk of getting cut with fentanyl, according to Walker.

"It's going to have been chemically altered so many times, cut and mixed so many times that the one thing I can guarantee you is that at the street level, the person dealing with has no idea what is going to be in [it]."

What's driving the fentanyl mix 

Walker notes mixing fentanyl with other drugs is a risky endeavour, asking, "It's bad business to kill your client, so why do that?"

One reason he suggests is the designer drug factor, with customers wanting a stimulant and depressant delivered at the same time for what Walker called a "speedball effect". He speculates another possible reason is that powerful opioids like fentanyl are far more addictive than several other drugs, and can hook customers into using.

As fentanyl becomes an increasing danger, users are also becoming more aware, and police and emergency services are  deploying new practices to stay safe, said Walker. He explained that previously, police would search a residence, seizing bags of white powder as cocaine, but now they deploy stringent protocols to deal with "unknown and high-risk toxic" scenes.

"You didn't think much about it but these days you just can't operate that way any more."