Sergeant Conor King from the Victoria Police Department took to the popular online forum, Reddit, to field questions and concerns regarding the province’s current fentanyl crisis.
Sgt. King, a Canadian Court-recognized Fentanyl expert, was part of the Vic PD’s Fighting Fentanyl Series, and has 20 years of experience in drug enforcement.
Overall, Sgt. King and the Victoria Police staff were able to answer 20 questions as well as some follow ups.
Top questions with answer:
Q: How did this Fentanyl thing start? Why have I been hearing about it so much over the past few months?
A: Fentanyl has been around for decades and played a smaller role as a illicit opioid in the street market. However, in 2012, factors changed, including the removal of the powerful prescription drug Oxycontin which had been highly abused as a street drug. That created a vacuum and organized crime groups capitalized on the opportunity realizing they could create counterfeit Oxycontin pills with fentanyl as well as selling fentanyl as “cheap” heroin.
You’re hearing about it so much because it is killing people in all walks of life in unprecedented numbers.
Q: I don’t view Twitter, so some of this information may be available there, but:
What makes you an expert in this drug, and what makes you better qualified than, say, a psychiatrist, pharmacist, or other clinically trained professional? What aspect of this drug are you qualified to present yourself as an expert on, and, please, clearly, what are your acknowledged limitations?
A: My area of expertise is in the illicit trafficking of this drug. I’m a police officer with 20 years experience in drug enforcement. My knowledge base is focused on drug trafficking, illicit drug use – basically the use and distribution of these drugs in the criminal milieu.
I am not better qualified than a pharmacist or pharmacologist with respect to the drug impact on the human body. Similarly, they wouldn’t have expertise in the illicit trafficking of the drug on the street.
I routinely am invited to teach medical professionals including the University of British Columbia (UBC) School of Pharmacy about the illicit use of street drugs like fentanyl.
I’ve been recognized as an expert witness in British Columbia, Provincial and Supreme Court on the following drugs:
Cocaine Heroin Fentanyl Oxycodone Methamphetamine MDMA Marihuana GHB Ketamine LSD Psilocybin
In our court-recognition process this means I’ve had to prove my qualifications to a judge and withstand scrutiny by defense counsel. The judge then decides if he or she will then recognize your expertise based on your education and experience.
Q: Please explain why decriminalizing all illicit drugs and offering them as medication via physician isn’t a better alternative to violent gangs distributing the same (but often deadly b/c of unregulated fentanyl doses) products?
Why is criminalization and failed enforcement better than treating the addiction crisis as a health/medical issue? Thanks.
A: Many societies around the world are asking exactly that. Dealing with addiction and drug use exclusively through the criminal justice system has had many failings. This fentanyl crisis has brought together the police with the medical community like never before and cutting edge efforts at providing opioids like heroin through legally sanctioned medical means has begun, for example, in Vancouver. These efforts will be watched closely to see if this should be expanded.
Our current approach is based on four pillars – of which enforcement is only one. The other pillars are: harm reduction, treatment and prevention. That’s where our efforts are currently focused. As police, enforcement is exclusively our domain, but we partner in safe consumption sites, prevention education and with social supports through partnership initiatives like our Assertive Community Treatment teams.
In Canada, if government chose to approach it in a different way, police would respond accordingly.
Q: How does using police resources on a COPS-style web series help save lives during the most deadly health crisis in Canadian history?
A: We have an obligation to keep the public informed on what we are doing. Transparency is key in policing. We made the series in-house, with internal staff, two cameras and a laptop for little cost.
In our most recent community surveys drug crime was the top concern for the citizens we serve in Victoria and Esquimalt. Enforcement is only one pillar of the four pillar approach we’re taking to this crisis, but one that we don’t often speak to. Our enforcement efforts aren’t targeting people who use drugs – they target those who knowingly sell the most vulnerable members of our Community drugs which will kill them, for a profit. The Fighting Fentanyl series was one way of telling that story.
Q: First of all, thank you for your service. Fentanyl, and most opioids, are just absolutely awful. So here’s my 3 part question.
- What, in your opinion, is the best way to combat the Fentanyl/overall opioid crisis?
- Do you feel marijuana is an effective alternative to opioids?
- Do you think the crisis will ever be put to an end?
- I think the best way is to reduce demand through treatment of addiction and long-term prevention; stopping use before it starts. Nobody wakes up in the morning and decides that they are going to start to live their life struggling with an addiction. Many people who use drugs do so in an effort to deal with trauma. If you deal with that trauma before it leads to addiction, in the long-term you deal with fentanyl and the overall opioid crisis.
- I have read studies that point to marijuana having many medicinal applications including treatment of pain as a substitute for opioids and I know that marijuana is not linked to fatal overdoses. So, in my opinion, worth exploring more.
- Yes. It’s going to be years, not months, before we come out of this crisis. It’s going to take enormous effort and we need to not let it become the “new normal.”
Q: Thank you for keeping us safe! Can you confirm a lot of these drugs come from china and how are the police stopping this?
A: Thanks for the positive feedback. I’m really proud of my team and the work they do to help keep some of the most vulnerable people in our community safe.
Much of it is coming from China. The police are working with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to intercept fentanyl as it arrives. It’s not been an easy task. Further we investigate the organized crime groups that operating in Canada that are initiating the importation. This is a top priority for police for drug enforcement.
Q: I have two young children in elementary school, are there steps we should be taking as parents, schools, or communities that help reduce the risk to everyone?
A: At that age the goal is prevention – stopping addiction before it starts. The research shows that much of addiction is linked to early life trauma. One of the best ways to guard kids against trauma is building resiliency during childhood. Kids need at least one loving, supportive adult in their life. More is better. Sounds like that’s what you’re already doing.
I am a subscriber to the theory that we should talk to our kids about drugs when age appropriate because being informed and making smart choices is always better than the alternative. I’m not an expert in preventing addiction through childhood development, but through years of policing this is what I’ve seen and what I’m doing with my own kids.
Q: Hi Conor, thank you for doing this. It is too bad there was not an advance notice of this AMA as it is a very hot topic in our province at the moment.
There is a stigma in our city many of the housing projects which came out of tent city are full of substance abuse. Has there been any instances of anyone/multiple over doses in any of those apartment buildings?
Secondary question, there is a mental health crisis associated with drug abuse and sadly you and other first-responders are on the front lines dealing with the fall out of this drug use. Does VicPD offer any education to users around opiod use and it’s dangers?
A: Yes, sadly, there have been both fatal and non-fatal overdoses at apartment buildings that have come about after Tent City. There were also, sadly, fatal and non-fatal overdoses at Tent City.
Education for users of illicit substances is largely in the realm of our harm-reduction partners and we support their efforts. That said, we do talks in schools about the dangers of opioids, particularly fentanyl so that high school students fully understand the risks of the current drug situation.
More and more we are called to non-criminal incidents, that are often associated to mental health and/or addiction concerns. Police are one of the few 24hr/7day a week resources available and, it’s our primary duty to keep people safe. In BC under the Mental Health Act, it is police exclusively who can detain someone and transport them for psychological assessment, so we’re a key part of the current approach to mental health crisis. That’s partially why we needed additional officers for the ACT teams.