Illegal drugs bound for Greater Victoria pass through North Saanich and Sidney on a regular basis — including drugs laced with fentanyl.
Yet so far, those same two communities have not yet seen a direct impact from the drug that has led to an overdose crisis in B.C.
Sidney North Saanich RCMP spokesperson Corporal Doug Wilson says police know that the ferry service between Vancouver the Swartz Bay is a regular conduit for drugs. And while drugs regularly pass through the Saanich Peninsula along the Pat Bay Highway, Wilson said local police have not yet responded to local overdoses caused by fentanyl-laced product.
“A lot of that stuff is moving through this area,” he said. “All things coming onto the Island passes through Sidney and North Saanich at one time or another from the ferry terminal.”
Wilson said the demographic of the community might be a factor in the lack of overdoses, but did say there is drug use here and if the crisis continues, it’s only a matter of time before local emergency crews respond to a local case.
Despite the Sidney RCMP detachment not yet having a case of a fentanyl overdose, Wilson said officers are being trained on how to approach suspected overdoses with precautions taken in the event fentanyl is involved.
Officers are now equipped with naloxone, an effective emergency treatment. Wilson said the spray is administered through the nose of a person who is suspected of suffering from a fentanyl overdose. Once administered and the person responds, they are taken immediately to hospital for treatment.
The fentanyl crisis has changed the way police approach known drug houses or reports of possible overdoses. Wilson said two officers respond, in case exposure to the drug effects them.
“The stuff is very powerful,” he said. “You can’t smell it and there are no natural indicators, other than maybe a woozy feeling, typical of opioid exposure, and sudden unconsciousness.”
On the Peninsula, Wilson said police receive many calls about unconscious people. Many are elderly and have other health issues involved. In other cases, he said, if a person is younger, healthy — or a drug user — and falls unconscious for seemingly no good reason, Wilson said it could be a fentanyl overdose. In that case, timely response is essential to save that person.
Stopping the flow of illegal drugs coming to the south Island is a challenge for police. Wilson said it comes down to investigations between police forces, tips from the public and even random stops by officers for other reasons.
“It’s not a problem that’s going away. It’s a matter of time before we have to deal with it here.”
The RCMP is now requiring all of its detachments to have a sealed room and chemical venting hood in place to handle evidence related to drug use. Wilson said this is to ensure officers are not exposed to fentanyl when working with evidence. He said the Sidney detachment does not have one yet, as the direction from RCMP headquarters is a recent response to the drug crisis. Wilson added there is some urgency, however, as officers face increased risk of exposure.