News / Calgary

2016 Fentanyl conference: The dangers of pressed pills and clandestine labs

Kathleen Ganley, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, says fentanyl is not a public health emergency

CPS Staff Sgt. Martin Schiavetta (left) and Corp. Eric Boechler use a pill press seized by CBSA officials to demonstrate how “hot spots” can be created in pressed pills being produced in clandestine fentanyl labs.

Lucie Edwardson / Metro

CPS Staff Sgt. Martin Schiavetta (left) and Corp. Eric Boechler use a pill press seized by CBSA officials to demonstrate how “hot spots” can be created in pressed pills being produced in clandestine fentanyl labs.

In 2015 more people died in fentanyl-related deaths in Calgary than homicides or vehicle collisions combined.

Alberta’s law enforcement and health partners are looking to share as much information about the drug at the 2016 Fentanyl Conference— taking place in Calgary over the next two days— the effects fentanyl has on our community, and how they're fighting the issue.

Hosted at Calgary Police Service (CPS) headquarters, media were given the opportunity to see real equipment, including pill presses and mixers, destined for Alberta from China that were seized by the Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) before they could be used in clandestine labs to press pills containing fentanyl. 

“This is a pill press and they’re commonly what we would encounter with drug traffickers who are producing counterfeit tablets,” said RCMP clandestine lab expert, Corp. Eric Boechler.

Staff Sgt. Martin Schiavetta with the CPS drug unit said one machine can produce 6,000 per hour—while the other can produce 18,000 pills per hour.

One of the dangers these counterfeit pills pose to consumers is what is known as “hot spots.” According to Schiavetta, Health Canada defines two milligrams of fentanyl as a lethal dose and pills containing more than that are considered hot spots.

The RCMP speak at a conference about fentanyl and clandestine labs.

“Some of the tablets we’ve been seizing in Calgary have ranged from 4.6 milligrams to 5.6 milligrams per tablet—which is very high obviously, considering a lethal dose is two milligrams,” he said.

Currently, Canadian law enforcement agencies are working together to not only to enforce laws pertaining to illegal drugs and substances like fentanyl, but also to tackle the supply and demand.

Boechler said they’re trying to make it more difficult for the average Joe to get their hands on equipment like pill presses, to help suppress the supply in Canada.

“Typically it’s used for research and development in the pharmaceutical industry, so of course, anybody else bringing this type of stuff in would immediately raise suspicion with law enforcement,” he said. “This isn’t something people would really have the need or application to use.”

Bill 205, the Pharmacy and Drug (Pharmaceutical Equipment Control) Amendment Act, brought forward by Calgary-West MLA Mike Ellis will come into effect next January— after being unanimously supported by MLAs.

The bill will only allow pharmacists and others holding a license to purchase things like pill presses, capsule filling machines, and pharmaceutical grade mixers.

Not a public health crisis: Minister Ganley

On the opening day of the 2016 Fentanyl Conference Calgary-West MLA Mike Ellis called on the provincial government to declare a public health crisis due to the ongoing issues Fentanyl and other opioids are causing in Alberta.

Calgary-West MLA, Mike Ellis.

Lucie Edwardson / Metro

Calgary-West MLA, Mike Ellis.

“We’re in the midst of a crisis and we need to treat it as such. We need to follow the steps of our neighbours ,” Ellis said, referring to British Columbia’s decision to declare a health crisis back in April.

Kathleen Ganley, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, said despite 275 fentanyl-related deaths in Alberta in 2015, the current situation doesn’t meet health crisis criteria set out in the Alberta Health Act.

Kathleen Ganley, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General.

Lucie Edwardson / Metro

Kathleen Ganley, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General.

She said during a public health emergency the government is given specific powers designed to deal with an outbreak.

“None of those powers will assist us in this case but they do give the government a significant ability to violate civil liberties,” said Ganley. “We think it’s important we use those powers that have significant impact on Albertans only where they would be helpful to us.”

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