VPD to improve safety practices when testing seized drugs for fentanyl

New budget includes $700,000 for a drug containment facility

A new drug containment facility will be built in Vancouver, so that members of the Vancouver Police Department can safely extract testing samples of seized drugs. This comes in the wake of an ongoing opioid crisis, in which a many street drugs are laced with fentanyl or other similar opioids, resulting in 999 fentanyl and opioid-related overdose deaths in B.C. from January to the end of October alone.

Sgt. Jason Robillard, spokesperson for the VPD, said the force has a drug storage facility, but doesn’t have a high-tech facility in which to handle and take samples from potentially contaminated drugs.

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Because of how strong opioids are, overdoses can happen due to skin exposure or inhaling small amounts. Robillard said he didn’t have the exact numbers on how many officers have been treated for opioid exposure. However, a VPD report released in May stated that, as of March this year, three police officers in B.C. had been treated for accidental opioid exposure, and, in late August, two VPD officers were sent to hospital as a result of possible opioid exposure during a drug bust in Olympic Village.

“With the rise of fentanyl and the known risks associated with handling fentanyl, we've come to the conclusion that we need something a little more advanced, and that's why we have this new drug containment facility,” he said.

The news comes after the VPD passed its 2018 operating budget at the Nov. 23 police board meeting. The total budget of $284,700,441 is an 11-per-cent increase from last year. The increase includesprovisions for the drug containment facility, $500,000 of which will go towards renovating an existing VPD space, and $200,000 for new high-tech safety equipment.

The new facility will be “self-contained” in that it will have its own ventilation system, allowing it to be isolated from the rest of the building in the event of an exposure. It will also have individual fume hoods, an emergency shower, a monitoring system, and areas in which to change in and out of protective gear.

The main purpose of the new room is to provide a safe location in which to extract samples out of large quantities of confiscated drugs. The samples are then packaged and sent to Health Canada to test for their ingredients.

“If we do get a larger quantity [of unknown drugs], we don't want to bring that whole thing to court,” Robillard said. The VPD, he said, doesn’t know what’s in the drugs “until we officially get it tested from Health Canada.” This room will allow officers to work with samples in a safe environment, and “down the road in court, we'll be able to say we tested this drug and it came back positive for fentanyl or cocaine.”

The VPD currently has a process for extracting samples, however Constable Jason Doucette said it has “been deemed to require some upgrades,” due to the increased prevalence of opioids contamination. “Now we expect to see it [in the seized drugs],” he said.

Robillard said he does not know the schedule for constructing the new facility but that it will be built “shortly.”

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