SASKATOON – A doctor is commending Saskatoon police for their response to a number of suspected overdoses on the weekend that resulted in two deaths from cocaine allegedly laced with fentanyl.
Police took the unusual step of releasing the street name and phone number of an alleged drug dealer in the hope of preventing further casualties. Three people were arrested.
“They identified the overdoses very quickly and then they started working through the food chain to get to the dealers,” Dr. Peter Butt, an addictions expert from the University of Saskatchewan, said in a phone interview Monday.
Police said they responded to at least six suspected overdoses on Saturday. A man and a woman died. Another person was in a coma.
Three men, all from out of province, were in custody Monday facing drug and weapons charges. Saskatoon police Supt. Dave Haye said manslaughter charges are also being considered.
He said it’s the first time he’s aware of that the force released that type of information.
“We believe that the public safety interests are of the greater need here and that’s why we released that information,” Haye told a news conference.
Police issued a public safety advisory warning that cocaine purchased from an alleged dealer using the name “Lil Joe” or “Joe Bro” with the cellphone number 306-881-7300 could be laced with a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl.
Authorities now have the cellphone connected to that number.
Premier Scott Moe said the province needs to continue to do more to prevent further overdoses.
“This is something that needs to be a priority for us as we move forward to ensure that … some of our communities’ most vulnerable … are in front of the right professional as soon as possible and receiving the appropriate care as soon as possible,” he said.
NDP Opposition Leader Ryan Meili, who is also a physician, said any information that helps avoid drugs which can cause immediate harm is positive.
But he also said the provincial government should do more to help people with mental-health problems and addictions.
“We saw last year money committed from the federal government for mental health and addictions, but we’ve never actually seen what’s been done with that money,” Meili said.
“I’m quite concerned that … it just disappeared into existing programs, when it was really intended to enhance our response to mental-health challenges, including addictions, in Saskatchewan.”
The police advisory urged anyone who had purchased the drugs to bring them to a police station for safe disposal. Police said anyone doing so would not face possession charges.
“The people who are addicted to drugs, they need treatment and they don’t need charges,” Haye said.
Butt encouraged people to take home naloxone kits, which can reverse the effects of an overdose. Take-home naloxone kits are available to at-risk individuals and their households in Saskatoon.
— By Ryan McKenna in Regina. Follow @RyanBMcKenna on Twitter.