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First known case of fentanyl hits Whistler, police say

Police Briefs: Alberta RCMP officer facing charges after arrest in Whistler

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Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid responsible for hundreds of overdose deaths in B.C. last year, has made its way to Whistler, according to a release from local police.

The results of a recent analysis of drugs that were seized from a Whistler Cay home in December showed that they contained fentanyl, police said. The drugs were seized after a search warrant was executed on Dec. 14 at a residence in the 6100 block of Eagle Drive, part of an investigation into alleged drug trafficking.

At the time, police said they found more than five ounces of cocaine, a large quantity of cash, 50 pills believed to be MDMA, and "other ancillary hard drugs," a release stated. In a follow-up interview, Sgt. Rob Knapton said the laced drugs came in the form of pills that were found in a bottle labeled "Xanax."

Police have recommended charges of cocaine possession against a 30-year-old Australian man and a 23-year-old Whistler man, as well as a trafficking charge against a 25-year-old Whistler man.

Police believe it to be the first known case of fentanyl in Whistler.

"There may have been, but I don't recall any cases where we've had confirmed fentanyl up here yet," noted Knapton.

Up to 50 times more toxic than heroin, fentanyl is an odourless, tasteless substance that is difficult to detect and often mixed with other drugs. It was implicated in 86 per cent of the 1,489 suspected overdose deaths in B.C. last year, a record high.

Getting a handle on fentanyl rates in Whistler has proven challenging. The BC Coroners Service (BCS) breaks down overdose deaths by health service region—there were 39 illicit overdose deaths last year in the North Shore-Coast Garibaldi region, which encompasses Whistler. But the provincial agency doesn't typically drill down into community-specific figures when the number of deaths per year falls below 10, primarily due to privacy concerns.

"Our worry is A) that we might be putting out misinformation, and B), that if we put out information in a small community, somebody could pinpoint, through a mosaic effect—maybe there was an obituary in the paper, or maybe they see something on Facebook—who the decedent was," explained Andy Watson, strategic communications officer for the BCS, in a March 2018 interview.

The most concrete local data we have on fentanyl to this point came from a presentation by Whistler RCMP to council last winter in which Insp. Jeff Christie revealed there were eight fentanyl overdose deaths in the Sea to Sky in 2017, the first time such a figure had been presented publicly.

Sea to Sky police now carry naloxone kits, used to counteract the effects of fentanyl, while on duty. The kits are available to the public for free at the Whistler Health Care Centre and in limited supply at the Whistler Community Services Society.

For more information on preventing and handling a suspected opioid overdose, visit towardtheheart.com.

Alberta RCMP officer facing assault charges from off-duty incident in Whistler

An Alberta RCMP member is facing charges in connection with an off-duty incident in Whistler earlier this year.

Const. Vernon Hagen, a member of the Alberta RCMP's Federal Serious and Organized Hate Crime Unit, faces two counts of assault and one count of obstructing a peace officer stemming from the Jan. 28 incident.

Whistler RCMP Staff Sgt. Paul Hayes said he was limited in what he could say about the incident with the matter before the courts, but he confirmed that Hagen did resist arrest. Hayes also clarified that the officer is not facing charges of assault causing bodily harm, as has been reported elsewhere.

In a release, the RCMP said that Hagen has been reassigned and will not return to operational duty until the legal matter is resolved.

A 46-year-old Whistler man is facing similar charges after he allegedly assaulted a police officer last week.

On Friday, March 8, a driver told police that he was travelling on Highway 99 when a male threw his snowboard at the car. Mounties located the intoxicated boarder walking along the highway and, after being approached, the man reportedly attempted to flee and then "punched one of the officers," police said. Officers restrained the man and transported him to cells, where he was held until able to care for himself. He now faces multiple charges.

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