VicPD’s new drug lab makes analysis safer

Investment in equipment pays off with carfentanil detection

VicPD’s new drug processing room and equipment is the first step in the department’s efforts to make handling drugs safer for officers.

Staff Sgt. Conor King, the officer in charge of the investigation that detected carfentanil in a quantity of seized heroin last week, said while the new lab is a major improvement, the facility has its limitations.

“This is our first full measure to make officers safe and to have a room that really has the safety equipment that they need,” he said. “When we’re dealing with really big drug seizures, it’s going to be a challenge operating in a room like this.”

King said his goal is to eventually have an off-site lab to determine what the drugs are and contain them before bringing them into the building.

But for now, the new lab makes drug investigations safer.

Safety equipment on hand includes air-purifying respirators, gloves, goggles and lab coats. The self-contained vacuum hood, often found in chemical laboratories, captures fumes and particles that come off the drugs when they’re being analyzed.

“Inhalation is our single greatest risk when it comes to fentanyl,” King said. “The samples we are dealing with are toxic at very minute amounts.”

And then there is the ion scanner, a machine similar to those used at airports to detect drugs and explosives, which last week found carfentanil for the first time in Victoria.

The potentially deadly drug was detected in heroin seized by West Shore RCMP in Langford on Aug. 2 as part of a joint operation. Officers arrested two men following a vehicle stop in the 1000-block of Goldstream Ave. Fentanyl was found in both a half kilogram of cocaine and an amount of methamphetamine seized, along with cash, brass knuckles and marijuana.

“(Carfentanil) is considered to be 100 times more potent than fentanyl,” King said. “Carfentanil is a growing problem and we will see more and more of it. It will only exacerbate the death rate.”

There were more than 900 overdose deaths in B.C. last year, and fentanyl played a part in many of them. But this is the first time carfentanil has been found in Greater Victoria, although police suspected it was already here.

“It is likely there are other carfentanil samples out there,” King said, adding that more dealers are using it and fentanyl to increase profits. “It is nothing short of a ruthless enterprise, because it is killing people at an astronomical rate.”

Horst Francisco Schimer, one of the two men taken into custody, faces drug-related charges and charges for breaching court-ordered conditions, which include not possessing weapons or drugs, and being under house arrest. The second man was released on a promise to appear later in court.

lauren.boothby@vicnews.com

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