Source: Prince George RCMP (Twitter)

Police are sounding the alarm about drugs distributed through “safe supply” programs following a seizure of thousands of opioids in British Columbia.

“Organized crime groups are actively involved in the redistribution of safe supply and prescription drugs,” Corp. Jennifer Cooper of the RCMP’s Prince George detachment told the National Post.

Police seized large quantities of drugs obtained through so-called safe supply prescriptions during a recent raid in Prince George, B.C.

“Many of the pills that were seized had been prescribed to specific individuals but were found all collected together, no longer belonging to those individuals,” added Cooper. “It might mean how we regulate our safe supply might need a sober second glance.”

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith echoed these concerns, treating the drug bust as vindication for the Alberta government’s approach to drug and addiction issues.

“Alberta has been warning for years that diversion of high-potency opioids from these programs could be diverted and trafficked across Canada, potentially causing irreparable harm and death in communities across the country,” Smith said. “In Alberta, we have made the provision of ‘safe supply’ illegal to prevent this very thing from happening. Unfortunately, that does not stop organized criminals from bringing it here illegally from other provinces.”

Smith has asked Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis and Addiction Minister Dan Williams to request an emergency meeting with their counterparts in British Columbia due to the “serious concern of diversion becoming evident and the reality that these drugs may be ending up for resale in Alberta,”

Cooper said that the growing problem first became evident several months ago.

“What we have seen in Prince George is people taking prescribed medication, some of which is dedicated as safe supply prescription drugs, and selling them to organized crime groups in exchange for more potent illicit drugs. The organized crime groups are then taking the prescription drugs and selling them interprovincially across Canada.”

The reason for the diversion is likely tied to recipients wanting something stronger than what they are being prescribed through “safe supply” programs, or something not currently being offered.

Several organized crime groups were discovered to have been involved in safe supply diversion rings after the RCMP’s Street Crew Unit obtained search warrants for their investigation.

The investigation led to the seizure of over 10,000 pills, including hydromorphone, codeine, gabapentin and dextroamphetamine. Investigators also discovered large quantities of what is presumed to be fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine.

A second investigation led to the seizure of over two kilograms of suspected cocaine and methamphetamine, in addition to thousands of prescription pills and cash.

Both morphine and hydromorphone are pharmaceutical opioids which are regularly prescribed to Canadians through safe supply programs. 

These programs are intended to reduce the number of deaths as a result of drug overdoses by having government-funded alternatives provided to addicts in place of illicit drugs that could be tainted with toxins. 

For example, the program offers users hydromorphone to mitigate their addiction to fentanyl, which can only be acquired on the street and is far more lethal in its potency. 

Critics of these programs argue that the drugs paid for by tax dollars are then often quickly turned around and sold on the street, helping to fund organized crime, and the latest RCMP investigation in Prince Rupert only confirms those critiques.

A similar RCMP investigation in Campbell River, B.C. last month led to the seizure of 3,500 hydromorphone pills, amongst kilograms of cocaine and methamphetamine, proving that divergence has become a regular practice.

Investigators in the Campbell River case said that there was plenty of evidence to suggest that the safe supply pills seized were part of “a well-organized drug trafficking operation.”

Cooper noted that another issue with diversion is that the buyer assumes the pills they are purchasing are safe to use because they initially came from a safe supply program, however that is not always the case. 

“It concerns us because the end users who are getting these prescription pills, it’s not been prescribed for them, they don’t know the dosages.

“They are sold in bundles of a variety of pills. People are mixing them and there are going to be people who don’t understand what they are purchasing and see that it is a prescription drug and assume it may be safe. But if it is not prescribed to you it is not safe.

“If these are getting into the hands of our youth or young adults who may think this is a safe way to get high, it is concerning to us.

“It’s also concerning that it’s another way for organized crime groups to make money very quickly with little to no effort on their part,” she added. “This is only perpetuating and possibly exacerbating the problem.”

A significant problem in discussing the issue, Cooper acknowledged, is that safe supply programs have been politically divisive since their inception. 

“I would guess this is going to get some political attention because we are pointing out what has been deemed safe is not being kept safe. It’s taxpayers that pay for this safe supply through our tax dollars that go towards our health units.

“It’s not only a problem for police, but it’s a problem for everybody who lives here and sees the cause and effects of this continuing to happen.”

Prince George is equal distance North of Vancouver as it is West of Edmonton, making it a key location for interprovincial distribution.