Jason Walker has seen the impact of drugs on the community in his twenty-year career as a police officer. He’s patrolled the streets, chased down grow ops, taught recruits, worked undercover, and now co-chairs the Calgary Police Service’s drugs and opioids strategic enforcement committee.
“Drugs and addiction touch everything we do,” says Walker, Staff Sergeant in the Calgary Police Service’s Community Support Section. “If I had a magic want and could wave away drug addiction, we probably wouldn’t need near as many police officers.”
Fentanyl has galvanized the public’s attention, he says. As oxycontin was reformulated and became harder to abuse, fentanyl quickly replaced it on the streets, because it is cheap to produce and easy to access.
“You used to need organized crime to get into the drug trade,” says Walker. “Now, you can order fentanyl directly to your home, and process it for trafficking with substances and equipment that are relatively easy to obtain.”
Opioids like fentanyl manage physical pain, which is why they are commonly prescribed in medical settings. They also act on psychological pain, says Walker, “making the demons of trauma and mental health issues temporarily go away.” An average fentanyl pill on the streets costs $20, but some users are taking 20 pills a day to just “not get dope sick,” he says.
Addicts, desperate to get their next hit, break into homes and cars to maintain their highs. The danger is fentanyl’s lethal threshold, says Walker, some 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
“Dealers cut this stuff by mixing it in blenders and cutting it. Some pills will have half a milligram of fentanyl, others six milligrams. And the lethal threshold is estimated at two milligrams.”
Community alarm peaked last year as fentanyl overdoses claimed over 150 lives in Calgary. “We’d never seen anything like this before,” says Walker. “Once, several years ago, nine people had died from a bad batch of ecstasy. But this was a new level of crisis.”
Many working groups were convened and a clearer roadmap has emerged in 2017 as multiple partners work to address the opioid crisis. “Governments, agencies and non-profits are all bringing resources to the table – treatment beds, funding, supervised consumption as well as our traditional enforcement,” he adds.
“We need to work with everyone we can. Most importantly, we need to ensure that those who need and want treatment can get help right away.”
The Calgary Drug Treatment Court is a key part of the continuum of services needed to address opioid addiction, he says. “The Drug Treatment Court provides opportunities for people to address addiction issues through treatment and oversight. It’s an example of what the community should really rally around. There would be a lot less crime out there if we could put more people through this program.”