Drugs

Alberta Bans Pill Presses as a Move to Combat Fentanyl Crisis

Illicit press operators face upwards of a year in jail and fines of up to $375,000.

by Allison Tierney
May 17 2016, 8:33pm


Fentanyl seized in a bust (photo via Calgary Police Service)

Alberta, the Canadian province with the highest rate of fentanyl overdose where close to 300 people died last year due to the synthetic opiate, has officially banned pill presses as a major move in the ongoing battle against its opiate crisis. The new legislation, Bill 205, requires licenses for owning a pill press and sets fines and jail time for those found to be in possession of one without the proper paperwork.

Fines for unlicensed pill press owners range from $50,000 to $375,000, and potential jail time could be up to one year. And now, Alberta's police association is calling for the federal government to pass legislation that will affect sale and possession of pill presses countrywide.

Though fentanyl is available as a prescription in Canada—usually in patch form—much of what is currently on the streets of Alberta is bootleg fentanyl believed to come from China. That bootleg fentanyl is generally trafficked into the country in powder or crystal form, then illicit drug manufacturers in Canada press it into the familiar blue-green Oxy80 pill (known colloquially as "beans" by users) that was originally meant to disguise fentanyl as Oxycontin. Pill presses like this one found in a Burnaby, British Columbia bust last year are capable of pressing up to 18,000 pills per hour.

This method of pressing pills has accelerated the current state of the fentanyl crisis. One metaphor commonly used compares pressing pills of fentanyl to making chocolate chip cookies: Not every cookie is going to have the same amount of chocolate chips in it, just like not every pill is going to have the same amount of fentanyl in it. Because of this, users are constantly dealing with pills that are weaker than usual and some that are stronger. This discrepancy in dosage increases the likelihood of overdose since users aren't always sure what they're going to get when they snort a bean.

Mike Ellis, a former cop, was involved with putting Bill 205 forward. In a written statement he said: "Alberta now leads the nation in our fight against illicit drugs by restricting pill presses... This bill will save lives. However, this is just one small step in our fight against opioid drug abuse. We must ensure there are strong intervention supports such as addiction counselling and long-term treatment beds to address the root causes of drug addiction."

Follow Allison Tierney on Twitter.