Saint John police do not believe any of the nearly $200,000 worth of drugs seized during the execution of search warrants in the city's north end on Tuesday contained fentanyl, but are bracing for the deadly drug to hit the city's streets.
Three people are facing charges and more arrests are expected after police seized cocaine, marijuana and prescription drugs, as well as two firearms, ammunition and cash as part of a three-month investigation into drug trafficking.
Sgt. Chuck Breen said there doesn't appear to be any indication any of the substances contained fentanyl, the drug suspected in several recent overdoses on Esgenoôpetitj First Nation, including a woman who died.
"At face value right now, our officers did not see any fentanyl," he said.
"However all the drugs are going to be sent away and they're going to be tested to see if there's anything in there that would be fentanyl-based."
It's unclear how long the test results will take, said Breen.
Now that fentanyl has been confirmed in New Brunswick in at least one pill at Esgenoôpetitj, however, Saint John Police Force Chief John Bates said his officers are on high alert.
"We know it's coming eastward, we know it's made its arrival in New Brunswick … So we're alive to that fact," said Bates.
"There's a real public safety issue here and we need to be aware of that," he said.
"The difficulty is, you know if you're actually investigating fentanyl, then you know you're investigating fentanyl. But if you don't know that there's been fentanyl that's been interlaced with other illicit drugs, our members run a real risk of being exposed to it and so does the people that actually purchase and use these illicit narcotics. They don't know what it is that they're consuming."
"I think when there's a concern for public safety, we will be front and centre in letting people know that you know fentanyl has arrived in our community."
Bates said he has already discussed the fentanyl crisis in Canada with his colleagues and will be attending another chiefs' conference next month to discuss "strategies and educational challenges that we'll face with regards to enforcement."
'Active' drug trade
"In some ways it's depressing to know that there's such a demand for [drugs] in the community," which sustains criminals, said Bates.
He described the city's drug trade as "active."
"I don't think that we're any different from any other community in New Brunswick or across Canada," he said.
"There's money to be made in illicit drugs and there are those that are going to take advantage of that opportunity."
- Fredericton man charged after $710K worth of drugs seized
The search warrants were executed Tuesday afternoon at residences on Durham Street, Douglas Avenue and Millidge Avenue, as well as a vehicle search.
Two men, ages 58 and 49, and a 49-year-old woman are charged with possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking and for the possession of firearms.
Police expect to make more arrests as the investigation continues.
The investigation involves the Integrated Street Crime Unit with the Saint John Police Force, which includes members of the Saint John Police Force, the Kennebecasis Valley Regional Police Force and the RCMP.