(Victoria Police Chief Del Manak/Photo by Brishti Basu)

A major drug bust in Victoria has prompted serious concerns about the province’s overdose epidemic.

Victoria Police Strike Force officers and Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team (GVERT) have arrested one man and seized one kilogram of extremely high-concentration fentanyl.

The drug sample was seized as a result of a months-long investigation in which police identified a supply of the high concentration fentanyl being trafficked locally.

On October 21, officers arrested a suspect associated with organized drug trafficking in a parking lot in the 0-block of Dallas Road, and seized one kilogram of high-concentration fentanyl.

The suspect has since been released from custody on a promise to appear, and will face recommended charges of drug trafficking.

Police are also recommending several drug trafficking-related charges against two men from Surrey, and a man and woman from Vancouver.

The most disturbing aspect of this particular drug bust is the concentration of fentanyl in the substance.

Analysis by Health Canada revealed that it had a concentration of 90 per cent fentanyl, which is extremely rare and troubling, according to Acting Inspector Conor King.

King, a provincially recognized drug expert, says drug samples typically have about 10 per cent fentanyl. Only one sample in Canada tested above 75 per cent in 2019, but in 2020, seven samples were found to have the same concentration.

“In the midst of an opioid overdose pandemic, the dangerously high concentration of this seized fentanyl, in this amount, would undoubtedly have resulted in more deaths,” said King.

Police estimate that the wholesale value of this kilogram of 90 per cent fentanyl is $140,000, but the street value is much higher, at $1 million.

They say this amount of fentanyl is enough to supply 495,000 lethal doses.

The finding caused VicPD Chief Del Manak to advocate for a safe supply of drugs for those who live with addiction.

It also led him to call for more funding for a second Strike Force team, adding that an investment in this proposed initiative would lead to less need for harm reduction and prevention services, at a press briefing on Thursday.

“Make no mistake, we at VicPD join with police departments across B.C. in advocating for a safe supply for those who are living with addiction,” said Manak.

“The targeted enforcement of drug traffickers associated to organized crime groups in our community is an important step in combatting the unsafe supply of these toxic drugs, ending the public health emergency, and saving lives.”

Dr. Richard Stanwick, Chief Medical Health Officer for Island Health Authority added that it is important to stick to the ‘four pillars’ in the province’s response to the ongoing overdose crisis.

“We don’t want to take away from prevention, harm reduction … This is part of a bigger picture and we are working collectively as a system to address this crisis,” said Stanwick.

An ongoing toxic drug alert for the Greater Victoria area has been extended for a second week in light of this drug seizure.

He added that between April and September, 13 per cent of all deaths in Victoria have involved extreme fentanyl concentration.

“Even more grim is that we tragically lose as many people to overdose in a single week on Vancouver Island than the total number of lives claimed since March by the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the pandemic has likely contributed to the resurgence in overdose deaths compared to last year,” he added.

No charges have yet been laid in connection with the arrests related to drug trafficking charges in Victoria and on the mainland.

The fentanyl seized by police was stored in a bucket and was deemed too toxic to present at a media briefing on Thursday.

It was, instead, filmed and photographed by police in a secure drug processing room. A video of the fentanyl is shared below:

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