The RCMP have announced charges against a man alleged to have been running a drug lab using fentanyl after a raid turned up sophisticated equipment capable of producing 18,000 pills an hour.
The use of fentanyl – an opioid up to 100 times more potent than morphine that's increasingly being cut into other drugs due to its low cost – has made headlines across the country after a number of deaths. In Vancouver, fentanyl was suspected in at least 16 overdoses in a single day in August.
Mounties on Thursday announced they had shut down a drug lab in Burnaby, though the raid itself was in January and the man alleged to have operated it was charged in June.
Staff Sergeant Duncan Pound, an RCMP spokesman, said police believe the lab was being used to create counterfeit Oxycontin and officers also recovered $35,000 in cash.
Staff Sgt. Pound acknowledged, however, that the bust would have limited impact on the current spread of fentanyl since the lab did not become fully operational.
"This would highlight production that didn't come fully online – that's our belief, that we were able to identify it right at the onset," he said at an afternoon news conference.
Staff Sgt. Pound said the investigation began in November, when the Canada Border Services Agency first noticed a piece of equipment that can be used to produce tablets was being delivered through Vancouver International Airport. The agency then contacted the RCMP.
The January raid occurred at a home that was being rented, the police spokesman said. He said test results have confirmed tablets found at the scene that looked like Oxycontin contained fentanyl. He said fentanyl is highly dangerous, with an amount the size of two grains of salt being enough to prove fatal.
Mounties have said fentanyl is likely being imported into Canada from other countries, and then mixed in with other substances.
Staff Sgt. Pound said police do not know where the fentanyl found in this lab was originally produced.
"This portion of the lab is mixing the fentanyl with binding agents and creating the tablets, as opposed to a lab that is producing fentanyl chemically," he said.
Corporal Derek Westwick told reporters the lab was one of the most sophisticated he's seen in his six years with the department's Clandestine Laboratory Enforcement and Response Team.
Cpl. Westwick also criticized those who operate such labs.
"In our line of work, we refer to these people or the persons who are actually in these clandestine labs as cooks. They're doing chemistry, but we try not to give them that credential. Chemists are people who've gone to postsecondary, worked hard to get that title.
"These people are capable of going on the Internet, reading what they can; there's lots of sites where they gather the information. They've self-taught themselves, but they're still just cooks," he said.
Staff Sgt. Pound said the man arrested after the raid, Riley Goodwin, has been charged under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act with production and possession for the purpose of trafficking. He said further charges are not expected.