Warning public about drug dealers after fatal overdoses a good move: expert

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Warning public about drug dealers after fatal overdoses a good move: expert

In a controversial move, Saskatoon police have given out the nicknames of a suspected drug dealer and released his phone number.

It's all in an effort to promote public safety in the wake of two fatal overdoses.

One frontline worker who helps people with addictions says she was surprised by the move. But another expert says this kind of disclosure is the right way to go.

Saskatoon police are considering potential homicide charges after two people died from drug overdoses over the weekend. Police believe the people ingested cocaine which was possibly laced with fentanyl. 

The alleged dealer was someone police identified as "Lil Joe" or "Joe Bro".  Saskatoon police Supt. Dave Haye said he has never seen this kind of public disclosure in his time with the service.

Three people have been charged with trafficking in relation to the incident.  According to court documents, none of the three men accused are from Saskatchewan. Two of the men are believed to be from Calgary. 

'Start to look for help'

Rand Teed has been a drug councillor and educator for 25 years and he feels the move by the Saskatoon Police Service to name the dealers is a step in the right direction.

"Letting people know that there are very specific, significant risks is a good idea," said Teed.

Cora Gajari, with Carmichael Outreach in Regina, said she was initially surprised police would release someone's name and phone number without a conviction but said she agreed with the move.

"At first I thought it was fake news. I didn't believe that would ever happen where somebody who's not convicted would be pointed out so specifically and so publicly," Gajari said. "But then I was kind of surprised in a good way because I think that there is a lot of risk right there out on the street."

Teed said he has been in contact with people who think they've been in contact with the drug, having attempted to buy Xanax and cocaine.

"If you just use baking soda to cut cocaine, the cocaine feels so weak the people feel they've been ripped off, but if you use a drug like fentanyl, when someone takes that they're going to have a strong response to it," said Teed.

"Initially, they'll feel like they got a good deal."

But someone who is not a frequent opioid user will not be able to handle the potency of fentanyl, according to Teed.

Peter Butt, who works with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said it's very hard for users to know just what else is in the drugs they've bought. 

"With regards to fentanyl, sometimes it's sold as a speed ball, a combination of opioid and stimulant as a product," said Butt.

"Sometimes, though, it may be put in there surreptitiously to get the clientele, the customers, dependant on the opioids so they come back on a more regular basis for supply."

When experiencing an opioid overdose, breathing is restricted and the person may turn blue from the lack of oxygen and potentially die.

If this happens people, need to respond with an antidote, said Butt, specifically Naloxone.

"Naloxone may begin to work in five minutes but it can stop working after 20 to 30 minutes and during that period of time the opioid poisoning may continue. When people don't call 911 and get definitive care, the overdose may come back," said Butt.

Butt said the best option is to try and go clean rather than taking the risk of buying drugs from someone you don't trust.

Politicians weigh in

Leader of the provincial NDP Ryan Meili said he's aware of the overdoses in Saskatoon.

"This isn't a surprise. This is something that has been ongoing," said Meili, who has worked as a family physician. 

Making sure that people know how to be safe and avoid dealers selling potentially laced drugs is a good step but more work from the province is needed, Meili added.

Meili pointed to money from the federal government which had been delivered in 2017 to try and address mental health and addictions, but he doesn't know where that money went. Instead, he suspects it went into fighting the province's budget deficit.

"What have they done with that money and what are their plans to get the fentanyl problem under control — but also the growing crystal meth problem under control?"

Premier Scott Moe agreed that more needed to be done to address issues surrounding addictions and treatment. The premier was not able to say where the money from the federal government went but said he felt the money was going to "a broader initiative."