Police believe organized crime is flooding the Blood Tribe reserve with an illegal drug that has been linked to 10 deaths
The drug has been linked to one death every two weeks since the fall, reports Reid Southwick.
Members of the Blood Tribe southwest of Lethbridge have been holding rallies to unite against the distribution and sale of pills sold as OxyContin, but are suspected to be fake variations that contain a potentially lethal narcotic.
Staff Sgt. Joseph Many Fingers, of the Blood Tribe police, said he believes the drug is responsible for 10 deaths on the reserve in the past six months or so, though toxicology tests have not yet confirmed these suspicions.
Many Fingers suspects the drug is manufactured in illegal labs by members of organized crime. Faced with growing community fears, the police service has assigned two officers to a newly formed crime reduction unit to crack down on the spread of this and other drugs.
Blood Tribe police believe the pills circulating on the reserve contain fentanyl, a drug considered more powerful than heroin and can be fatal in small doses. The opiate is normally prescribed by doctors to treat terminal illnesses or extreme pain following surgery.
We are looking looking at one death every two weeks and several overdoses between those where the person makes it. It’s pretty serious. It’s having a real impact on the community. —Many Fingers
Staff Sgt. Rod Klassen, of the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams, said fentanyl is fashioned to appear like OxyContin but is in fact much stronger and more dangerous. He said the spread of the drug is not isolated to the Blood Tribe but has been found across the province, which has seen an increase of distribution and overdoses.
I’ve talked to many other drug commanders around the province, and everyone is seeing it. It’s not specific to the Blood Tribe or Lethbridge or any other town or city in this province, but more so province-wide, and I would suspect even wider than that. —Klassen
Pamela Little Bear, who lives on the Blood Tribe reserve, said her nephew was in his early 30s when he died about five months ago from an overdose suspected to be caused by the fake OxyContin, leaving behind two young children.
Little Bear is among a group of Blood Tribe members who have held three recent rallies and an information session on Thursday to educate their community about the dangers of the drug and call on dealers to leave.
“We’re letting them know that we want them to stop and they are hurting our loved ones and we’re suffering from their deaths that we have to deal with,” she said, estimating the victims have been in their 20s to 40s.
The investigation at the reserve follows a series of raids last week in Saskatchewan and Alberta where police seized more than $8 million worth of drugs, including over 3,000 fentanyl pills with the same chemical composition as narcotics linked to three overdose deaths in Saskatoon.
Thirteen of the 14 people charged in the bust are members of the Hells Angels or the Fallen Saints, another motorcycle gang, police say.
Terry Eide, an alleged full-patch member of the Hells Angels, was the lone Calgarian arrested in the raids. He was charged with two counts of trafficking a controlled substance, one for cocaine, the other for fentanyl, and one count of possession of property obtained by crime.
Last February, following an eight-month investigation, the Calgary Police Service’s guns and gangs unit seized 9,600 pills containing fentanyl and caffeine with an estimated street value of $768,000 from a vehicle in Chestermere east of Calgary.
Brian Thomas Harrington, a 29-year-old Chestermere man, was charged with possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking and possession of property obtained by crime in connection to the suspected drug distribution scheme.
“I can’t speak to how they’re acquiring the ingredients to manufacture the fentanyl,”acting Insp. Tom Hanson said after the raid. “But I do know that it’s being manufactured in a clandestine lab as opposed to being stolen from pharmacies or a pharmaceutical manufacturing company.”
Little Bear, who fought an addiction to prescription medications, said her group has already been successful in convincing members of the Blood Tribe to seek treatment. She received texts from three addicts who planned to kick their habit, and has heard reports of others.
Another rally is scheduled for Tuesday to spread the same message, which she hopes will continue to resonate in her community.
We want to make sure (the message is) still out there. (The drug is) not just going to go away after we’re done talking. —Little Bear
Anyone with information about fake OxyContin on the Blood Tribe reserve can confidentially send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.