WATCH ABOVE: Despite warnings about the dangers, fentanyl use continues to go up in Alberta. Eric Szeto has more on a massive seizure.
EDMONTON — Five people were arrested after a drug bust in Edmonton that included nearly 2,000 fentanyl pills among the $545,000 worth of drugs seized by the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams.
The bust is the first time in Edmonton that ALERT has seized fentanyl, which is a deadly synthetic drug that appears in the form of pills or powder. It is often referred to as ‘greenies’ on the street and is sometimes sold as oxycontin, because the pills look similar.
The five people arrested are accused of transporting drugs using vehicles with customized hidden compartments. Three SUVs with hidden compartments were seized. Police say organized crime groups have been sending the potentially deadly drug through B.C. to Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The drugs seized include 1,841 fentanyl pills, 2.6 kilograms of cocaine, 1 kilogram of methamphetamine, and 468 grams of MDMA (Also known as Ecstasy or Molly).
The value of the fentanyl alone, which was manufactured to look like oxycontin, is valued at $147,280. An alarming number of Albertans are dying from illicit use of fentanyl, according to information released last week by RCMP, AHS and the Chief Medical Examiner. It has been linked to more than 100 deaths in Alberta since 2014.
“We do not want any more deaths” Insp. Darcy Strang said Wednesday. “We also want to make sure that the organized crime groups realize that (if) you sell this stuff, we are targeting you.”
Strang declined to say which organized crime groups may be involved.
He said police believe the fentanyl is coming from China or possibly Mexico in powdered or liquid form and is pressed into pills.
“We believe that there are probably pill presses in Edmonton and area.”
Two firearms and $91,000 in cash were also seized. Search warrants were conducted at four Edmonton homes and a rural home near Redwater on February 3 and March 18.
Oran Grant Soanes, 26, Mitchell Fortin, 25, Cleveland Black, 19, Adrian Cambiazo, 20, and Natasha Ponzey, 19, were arrested and are facing at least 30 drug-related charges.
Edmonton police and RCMP members were involved in the bust and arrests.
Calgary police say they have made 13 fentanyl seizures since January and believe the drug was a contributing factor in 29 deaths in the city last year.
Authorities note more than 88,000 fentanyl pills have been seized throughout Alberta since last April.
READ MORE: Street drug fentanyl killing more Albertans
With files from The Canadian Press