Calgary police say they've seized several barrels of phenacetin — a pain-relieving compound that was pulled from drug store shelves in the 1970s and is now used for cutting cocaine — from an apartment in the Beltline.
"This is a significant seizure in Calgary and we in the Calgary Police Service believe this does make a dent in the organized crime activities of drug traffickers in the city at a high level," Staff. Sgt. Mark Hatchette said.
"The sole purpose for that drug is to make cocaine more profitable to organized criminals."
Phenacetin has a numbing effect similar to cocaine but is far cheaper, gram for gram, so Hatchette said it's common for drug dealers to mix the two white powders to boost their profit margins.
Officers raided the home in the 1000 block of 14th Avenue S.W. last Thursday, recovering more than 83 kilograms of the cutting agent.
Two people were arrested later that day and police said 32-year-old Mohamed Sirage Omar and 31-year-old Yasmin Ibrahim Mohammed face several drug and firearms-related charges.
The phenacetin is estimated to be worth about $83,000.
Police also seized a small amount of cocaine along with a loaded Glock pistol and roughly $8,000 in cash from the apartment.
Hatchette described the suspects as low-level operatives in a larger network of drug dealing and said police believe the seizure will lead to future arrests.
"We noticed connections with a lot of organized crime groups here in the city as well as other cities across Canada," he said.
"They will eventually be brought to task on their criminal activities."
Police said the investigation began in January when the Canada Border Services Agency alerted them that a large amount of phenacetin had been imported.
The CBSA became aware of what appeared to be an attempted shipping route for the drug from Hong Kong last summer, said chief of operations Candace Lyle.
Last July, border agents seized two 25-kilogram barrels at a Vancouver mail centre that originated from Hong Kong and were bound for Calgary. Then in October, they intercepted another barrel.
Hatchette said the local investigation lasted three months and targeted people named in the earlier shipments.
What is phenacetin?
Phenacetin is a pharmaceutical that was once used as a pain reliever but was discontinued as both a prescription and non-prescription drug in 1973 over concerns about it leading to kidney damage and potentially cancer.
The federal government now classifies phenacetin as an industrial chemical and monitors its presence.
It's not believed to be manufactured in Canada but is imported in small amounts for legitimate uses, including as part of hair dye products.
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