The Comox Valley RCMP are advising that recent Health Canada tests have confirmed the presence of a synthetic cannabinoid/fentanyl combination powder in the community.
In October, the Comox Valley RCMP entered into a drug trafficking investigation in Courtenay, where a number of exhibits were seized from a residence, including a small amount of powder. The powder was sent to the Health Canada Laboratory and was very recently confirmed to contain fentanyl, 5F-ADB (synthetic cannabinoid), caffeine and acetaminophen.
“We are very concerned about the confirmation of this synthetic cannabinoid and fentanyl in our community. This was a potent and potentially lethal combination of drugs,” said Cst. Monika Terragni, media relations officer, Comox Valley RCMP. “These substances have been associated with psychotic episodes, overdoses and were presented in such a way that users may have been unaware of exactly what they were consuming.”
As a result of this investigation, Justin Chester was charged with several offences including; obstructing police, possession of a scheduled substance, and failure to comply with his probation. Chester remains in custody.
Terragni said the powder was presented in a fashion that resembled heroin, and could have been snorted, or turned into liquid form and injected.
“They could do either,” she said. “It just depends what they think it is. This particular [sample] was in a powder and it looked like heroin. So people might not know what they were using. And that’s typical with a lot of street drugs. They don’t come with an ingredient label and that’s the [danger].”
Island Health medical health officer, Dr. Charmaine Enns, said there has not been a spike in overdose cases in the Comox Valley in the past 60 days.
“We have not seen a spike in overdose presentations to emergency, in the hospital, and we have not have increased overdoses in the OPS (overdose prevention site), and we have not had an increase in ambulance call-outs compared to previous months,” she said.
Enns said if a spike occurs, an alert process will be put in place to advise the community.
“We have criteria which triggers an alert process,” she said. [Had there been a spike in October] I would definitely have initiated an alert.”
Terragni pointed out that the synthetic cannabinoid is not related in any way to the cannabis plant.
“Although it’s called a cannabinoid, because it’s synthetic, it does not come from the plant. It’s manufactured in a lab and comes from this whole family of designer drugs.”
“Because it has the name ‘synthetic cannabinoid’ people think pot, or marijuana, but it’s not pot,” she said. “They are manmade compounds that have ingredients that mimic THC. The problem is that those synthetic cannabinoids, even without fentanyl being added in, can be many, many times more potent than the THC [level] in marijuana, and that alone can result in a very dangerous overdose.”
Terragni added that this particular strain is new to the community.
“This particular synthetic cannabinoid/fentanyl combination is a newly encountered substance to the Comox Valley - it has not been seen in previous drug exhibits sent to the Health Canada Lab from our area.”
Enns said that while it may be new to the Valley, synthetic cannabinoid has been around for more than a decade, and this particular strain, known as K2, or spice, is not new. (A CBC investigative report from 2013 found it for sale in numerous Vancouver shops.)
“Other places … know about the combination of K2 with fentanyl,” she said. “I mean, why not? It’s just one illicit substance being put together with another illicit substance. So this is a known entity. This is just the first we have had it identified in the North Island.”
-With files from RCMP