Trade of safe-supply drugs detailed in Prince George RCMP warrant

RCMP in the northern B.C. city of Prince George spent 10 days last month mounting a surveillance operation on a woman who allegedly stood outside a downtown pharmacy each morning trading illicit drugs for safe supply medication.According to a search warrant obtained by CBC, police saw the 58-year-old suspect make dozens of “hand-to-hand” transactions in that time — both buying and selling prescribed pills worth up to $20 a tablet on the street.The court documents cite the pharmacy manager who told police that “many of his patients are accosted by individuals outside of the pharmacy in the mornings by people who are trying to purchase the safe supply drugs.””Since the inception of the ‘safe supply’ program, he has observed vehicles and people loitering outside of the store trying to purchase safe supply drugs from patients,” the information sworn to obtain the warrant reads.”The sale and exchange has only gotten worse and has been for the past year or more.”A political firestormThe documents provide insight into an issue that turned into a political firestorm last month as B.C.’s solicitor general traded barbs with federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre over the program, which offers prescription alternatives to people at risk of overdose from street drugs.Advocates for safe supply have long acknowledged the possibility some users might exchange their prescription drugs for stronger street drugs — a practice known as “diversion.”Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has promised to end safe supply programs if his party is voted into power. He has been critical of B.C.’s program. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)But the extent of any associated problems is unknown.The issue hit the headlines in early March when Prince George RCMP issued a news release saying they were seeing “an alarming trend” involving organized criminals redistributing drugs intended for the safe supply program.The next day, B.C. RCMP assistant commissioner John Brewer countered with a statement to the effect that there was “no evidence to support a widespread diversion” of legally prescribed substances to the illegal drug market.But by that point, both Poilievre and Alberta Premier Danielle Smith had weighed in — leading B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth to criticize them for making claims without waiting for information.B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth has criticized claims from Pierre Poilievre and Alberta Premier Danielle Smith regarding B.C.’s safe supply program. (Mike McArthur/CBC)’Many of his patients are accosted’The search warrant obtained by CBC relates to a case publicized by Prince George RCMP Monday — a probe initiated March 6 when officers “began investigating the illicit drug trade” in front of the IDA Third Avenue Pharmacy.CBC is not naming the suspect, who has been arrested but not charged. According to the court documents, she has no criminal record, but was flagged in three other police files in 2023 involving another female suspect.Last summer, the two women were accused of trading prescription drugs for fentanyl. They were also accused of selling heroin out of cigarette packages.After the investigation began, officers set up surveillance outside both the pharmacy and the suspect’s home about three kilometres away.Prince George RCMP seized prescription drugs, suspected methamphetamine and fentanyl and a small amount of cash from the suspect’s residence after a 10-day surveillance operation. (Prince George RCMP)”RCMP members conducted 10 days of surveillance which showed [her] being picked up by a taxi at that residence and driven downtown, where she conducted her transactions with people coming from or around the IDA pharmacy,” the warrant reads.According to the warrant, the IDA pharmacy manager told RCMP patients are given up to 28 hydromorphone pills per day “which equated to approximately $440 or $480 a day” if resold.”Many of his patients are accosted by individuals outside of the pharmacy in the mornings by people who are trying to purchase the safe supply drugs,” the warrant reads, referring to the pharmacy manager.”Vehicles would be observed idling, with windows rolled down in the middle of winter … sometimes the vehicles would sport Manitoba plates.”A lineup every dayThe manager told investigators the bulk of the interactions happened around 9 a.m. PT.The court documents give detailed descriptions of the 84 transactions officers said they observed — the first of which occurred two minutes after the pharmacy opened its doors on March 6 to a crowd of 15 waiting people.Advocates say B.C.’s safe supply program can save lives, but a review says more needs to be done to understand the risks of diversion of prescription drugs. (Ben Nelms/CBC)In the minutes that followed, the warrant says police watched what they believed to be a series of hand-to hand trades of prescription pills for illicit drugs.”A male in a blue jacket … an older male in a plaid jacket … a female in a blue hooded jacket … a female in a black hoodie,” reads a police description of some of the people involved.Every day, a lineup of as many as 20 people formed outside the pharmacy. On one morning, police observed the suspect handing out cigarettes “to people waiting outside” before the doors opened.The pills came in bottles and bags. The suspect allegedly took them in exchange for drugs she kept wrapped in tin foil in a black clutch in her purse.Police also watched as the woman allegedly did deals out of her residence with people in mini-vans, trucks and a Mercedes-Benz — as well as a vehicle with Alberta plates.The surveillance operation wrapped up on March 21 — two days before RCMP obtained the warrant to search the woman’s home, where they seized prescription drugs, empty prescription packaging and cash.’More needs to be done’A review of the safe supply program, released by the provincial health officer earlier this year, said “more needs to be done to investigate the potential for harm” associated with diversion.”Some diversion is occurring; however, the extent and impacts are unknown,” the report said.”Diversion to people at risk of drug poisoning may be of benefit, while diversion to people who would otherwise not use unregulated drugs is harmful.”Dilaudid is one of the safe supply medications allegedly being traded by safe supply patients for illicit drugs. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)The IDA pharmacy manager did not want to comment on the investigation or the safe supply issue — referring questions to the B.C. Pharmacy Association, the organization which represents the province’s pharmacists.A statement issued on behalf of the organization noted the association has “no direct involvement with developing or monitoring the safer supply program.”But they have to deal with the possibility of diversion all the same.”Pharmacists do not support the diversion of any medication, whether it be a safer supply of opiates or heart medication,” the statement reads. “They dispense medications to patients with the understanding it is intended for that individual for which it has been prescribed.”If a pharmacist has a reason to believe that the medication will not be used by the patient themselves, then they have an obligation to not dispense it and contact the patient’s prescriber.”

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