Montreal Police Stepping Up Raids in War Against Fentanyl
Montreal police swooped down on a substance believed to be the powerful opioid fentanyl — just over 24 grams, yet potent enough to kill 12 people.
It was Friday at 6:30 a.m. when the SPVM’s violent crimes division stormed a home in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve borough in an attempt to prevent fentanyl-related abuses and deaths from overdoses in the city.
Commander Christine Christie, who is in charge of all overdose investigations for Montreal, and specifically fentanyl in the east-end division, said the drug will be tested in a laboratory, but police suspect they’ve rid Montreal streets of another batch of fentanyl, an opioid drug that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
The east-end home was probably the main drug stash of a trafficking network, Christie said. Apart from the purported fentanyl, police seized nine grams of heroin, 13 grams of cocaine, 1,739 grams of a mystery white powder used to dilute the drugs and $445 cash. Among the paraphernalia were little plastic bags set to be filled with illicit drugs cut with fentanyl.
Police arrested two men and one woman and are now looking for a fourth suspect, also a woman, who is alleged to be part of the group. Alain Joly, 35, Kevin Charbonneau, 28, and Stéphanie Hamel, 26, appeared in court Saturday and face charges of trafficking heroin and possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking.
But even as one drug ring is dismantled, another takes its place, Christie said. In August, police launched phase one of an investigation, called Operation Echantillon, in the wake of seven drug overdoses on the same day. Six suspects were arrested in a raid on two homes and two vehicles in Hochelaga on Aug. 18, one day after the overdoses. Police seized heroin and other drugs, but no fentanyl, she said.
“But after Aug. 18, other sellers arrived on the street, which is why we did another operation,” Christie said. “We’re trying to find the source of the drugs — who is selling what, and we have to start somewhere.”
Within two weeks, on Sept. 1, police raided two more homes in Hochelaga and this time seized heroin laced with fentanyl, she said, and arrested another six suspects. A raid in Longueuil on Sept. 13 yielded no drugs.
In Friday’s raid, “we found more fentanyl here than elsewhere,” Christie said.
Twenty-four grams may not seem like a lot of drugs, but considering that two grams is fatal, that’s enough to kill 12 people, she said.
The drug rings are loosely related to criminal biker gangs, but it’s not known whether the gangs “authorized this,” Christie said. They may be low-level (gang followers) who want to increase their financial gains by adding fentanyl to the mix. Experts believe the illicit drug is coming mostly from China, some is made synthetically in laboratories, and the rest is pharmaceutical grade from prescription narcotics.
In Canada, prescription painkillers and illicit fentanyl are together fuelling a national epidemic of opioid-related overdoses, killing more than 2,800 people last year.