Police have charged 10 suspects and seized a huge amount of the synthetic drug fentanyl that’s been blamed in dozens of overdose deaths in B.C. last year.
The coordinated raids on Feb. 17 in Vancouver, Burnaby, North Vancouver and Richmond yielded 29,000 fentanyl pills, 650,000 yet-to-be-identified pills suspected to contain either fentanyl or Alprazolam, a pill press, seven vehicles, $215,000 in cash, four guns, 16 kilograms of crack or powdered cocaine and varying amounts of other drugs, including marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin.
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The joint Vancouver Police-RCMP operation dubbed Project Tainted began last October as alarm grew about unprecedented numbers of overdose deaths from drugs laced with fentanyl, which is a highly toxic opioid painkiller.
“The goal of this project was to target those who were peddling poison in our communities, and to disrupt the local supply of fentanyl-laced drugs that were being distributed throughout the Lower Mainland and beyond,” said RCMP Chief Supt. Kevin deBruyckere.
Police said one of their primary targets in the investigation was a suspect tied to a recent shooting in south Burnaby. Maksym Pefti, 22, of Burnaby, has been arrested on charges of attempted murder and trafficking, while nine others face trafficking charges.
VPD Supt. Mike Porteous called the seizures and arrests a “significant blow” to the local distributors of the deadly drug.
Police believe fentanyl came here from Asia in powdered form before being cut with other powder and pressed into pills in Metro Vancouver and then distributed throughout the Lower Mainland and elsewhere in B.C.
“The tendrils extended from Vancouver and Burnaby into the rest of the Lower Mainland and beyond,” deBruyckere said.
Officers say pills turning up on the streets are often sold as OxyContin but in fact contain fentanyl, while other drugs – even marijuana – have also been found laced with fentanyl.
An estimated 75 overdose deaths in B.C. last year have been tied to fentanyl, with the largest numbers of deaths occurring in Vancouver, Langley and Surrey.
Casual party drug users who take pills or snort or smoke drugs are considered most at risk, rather than the injection drug users who are more often associated with overdoses.
Fentanyl accounted for 25 per cent of overdose deaths last year, up from five per cent in 2012.