Alberta RCMP’s new commander says the province’s opioid crisis remains a key concern in 2019, despite suggestions it might be abating.
Weeks after an Alberta Health report suggested the number of opioid overdose deaths might be plateauing, RCMP Alberta commanding officer and deputy commissioner Curtis Zablocki said he isn’t ready to dismiss the issues the deadly drug is posing across the province.
“In Alberta, we see an average of two deaths a day in relation to that crisis,” he said.
“I think it’s still relatively prevalent here and as to what it does in the future, I may not be as optimistic as some of those out there.”
Nearly 500 people died due to fentanyl overdoses in Alberta over the first three quarters of 2018, with 158 of those fatalities occurring in the third quarter.
It’s a slight drop from the 169 and 167 deaths reported in the first and second quarters respectively.
The crisis — which has killed 1,700 people in Alberta since Jan. 1, 2016 — is primarily being fuelled by powerful opioids being brought in from overseas.
It’s forced officials to launch partnerships with international groups to put an end to the trafficking, which is largely stemming from China, Zablocki said, adding the RCMP have trained drug-detection dogs to help sniff out the lethal drug.
“(We’re) working collaboratively to address some of the distribution as it makes its way out of these source countries,” he said.
Contrasting against the opioid crisis has been a surge of methamphetamine usage.
As police in Calgary grapple with the dangerous rise of methamphetamine, Zablocki said the issue has been seen more in pockets in rural parts of the province.
“We’re looking at strategies at how we can combat and address some of those challenges,” he said.
“Meth typically increases a person’s aggressiveness, behaviour that can lead to violent activity. (It) puts the public, and police sometimes, in precarious situations.”
The drug is notorious for causing erratic behaviour, while concentrations of meth have been found to be in the systems of some victims of officer-involved shootings across the province.
Between the end of September and the middle of November, Alberta Mounties reported at least nine instances of police vehicles being damaged by fleeing suspects. Zablocki said meth is behind many of those incidents, which can put the lives of both officers and the public in jeopardy.
“We are concerned … we’ve seen a number of police vehicle rammings across the province and those are obviously very dangerous situations for our members,” said Zablocki.
“We’re having the discussions around how can we better protect our members. (It’s) front of mind, very paramount for us is that aspect of what we see with the meth culture, that being officer safety.”
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