The Simcoe-Muskoka area, a vast swathe of the Canadian province of Ontario, has been afflicted in recent years by powerful opioids such as illicitly smuggled fentanyl and carfentanil, with overdose rates frightening both local authorities and residents.
In 2017, the area saw the rate of emergency cases for overdoses rise to 77.1 visits per 100,000 people, compared to a provincial rate of 54.6, according to Public Health Ontario, with the issue even more worrisome as despite its illegality, the opioid business is thriving with more and more people jumping on the bandwagon in thirst for easy money.
Traffickers can notably vary from a single person up to 60 years of age, to a small business, or extended criminal organizations, including Asian crime groups, the Italian Mafia, biker gangs and all the way to the notorious Mexican cartels, according to a report by Global News.
'Anytime we hit these groups we get fentanyl', an unnamed detective with the Toronto drug squad shared with the edition. 'Now a lot more people can jump in the game because of the profits'.
Det.-Insp. Jim Walker with the Ontario Provincial Police organized crime enforcement bureau pointed out that the scale of involvement in 'the game' is indeed scary, in light of the high availability of sourcing the drugs: as soon as one transfers money to locations in Southern China, the location of the top producers of opioids, one gets the order delivered in the mail, usually via the US, which takes little time and effort.
‘It’s a bit of everybody right now. We haven’t pinned it to one group, we’re seeing it right across the board,’ said Det.-Insp. Jim Walker, adding:
‘Organized crime groups will exploit whatever avenue they can, obviously to make the money.' He is certain that like in the case of any commodity-based crime, the issue is centred on 'money and greed.’
Individual court cases demonstrate how the typical scheme works. One of the most notorious examples in southern Ontario is 21-year-old Anthony 'Tony' Mastromatteo’s conviction. He is currently serving a 7-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to importing via the mail 100 grams of fentanyl and other designer drugs from China in October 2016. Mastromatteo’s social media accounts showed at the time a baby-faced drug dealer holding handfuls of cash and all adorned with gold chains and rings.
'He was essentially an illicit pharmacy dispensing drugs like bullets for the buyers to play Russian roulette with', Bliss wrote. 'So easy was the process, and so confident was Mr. Mastromatteo in it, that he used his own name and his own address for the packages of drugs to be delivered', Justice Jonathan Bliss wrote in June.
‘Words fail to convey the human cost of the fentanyl crisis that communities across the country, and this community in particular, are facing. Words have a sterility to them. Lives lost, literally and figuratively are not sterile,’ he added.
The Ontario communities of Barrie and Orillia have kicked off an across-the-board fight against the illegal opioid boom. In June, Simcoe Muskoka Opioid Strategy (SMOS) came up with a comprehensive plan to address the drug use, addiction and overdose in the region, with the strategy relying on 5 crucial pillars: prevention, treatment/clinical practice, harm reduction, enforcement, and emergency management.
‘It’s murder and we need to start with that — making the penalty for drug dealers stiffer — and longer and harder for them', a mother of one of the overdose victims told Global News. ‘They’re getting away with murder', she added.
Synthetic opioids are deemed to be highly potent substances as compared with other drugs, with roughly two milligrams of pure fentanyl being enough to kill a person.