Almost a dozen Canadians died every day from opioid overdoses last year. Since 2016, more than 8,000 have lost their lives, primarily to fentanyl. In British Columbia, the problem has become so bad that life expectancy has dropped for the first time in decades.
But it has also made traffickers astoundingly rich.
In a multi-part investigative series, Global News follows the money, revealing how organized crime groups and small-time operators alike are making a killing from fentanyl.
“There are people profiting off the death of our children,” said Marilyn Muir, who lost her 34-year-old son to an overdose.
The amounts traffickers are bringing in are so vast that investigators suspect their money-laundering has disrupted the Vancouver-area housing market. It has also putting a spotlight on casinos. But when police seize their illicit cash, traffickers just walk away, seemingly unfazed.
Who are these people?
WATCH: The suspected kingpins of fentanyl in Canada
The kingpins of Canadian fentanyl are associated with the Big Circle Boys, a notorious crime group based in China, investigators told Global News. Mexican cartels are getting involved as well, particularly in Ontario, multiple police sources said.
READ MORE: Who are the Big Circle Boys?
But with so much money to be made, it has also attracted minor-league traffickers who order small amounts online from China and put it onto the streets, leaving a trail of bodies in places like Simcoe County.
“You can’t just go to a South American cartel and say you want to buy a bunch of cocaine, but for fentanyl it’s different,” said RCMP Supt. Yves Goupil.
All it takes is five grams of fentanyl to make a pile of cash, he said.
“You could buy, tonight, five grams of fentanyl. So anyone, basically, it’s open to anyone. There’s no need to meet face-to-face. There’s a lot of anonymity.”
WATCH: How profitable is fentanyl?
Almost all of Canada’s fentanyl traces to factories in southern China, where it is plentiful, dirt cheap and compact enough to ship by mail.
Once here, it is either sold in pill form or, unbeknownst to users, added to street drugs like heroin to increase traffickers’ profits — even as it greatly raises the overdose risk.
WATCH: How organized crime groups launder suspected drug money in B.C. real estate
“This epidemic of deaths is caused by murderers who are adding toxic chemicals to the drugs that ordinary people are taking,” said Evelyn Pollock, whose 43-year-old son overdosed in Orillia Sept. 15, 2017.
With overdose deaths mounting, Canadian police are growing frustrated at the lacklustre response of Chinese authorities, whom they allege are making their cooperation conditional on unrelated diplomatic and foreign policy objectives.
Based on extensive interviews with police, victims, health care workers, as well as documents and court records, Fentanyl: Making a Killing reveals the drug underworld that is profiting from the misery of Canada’s fentanyl crisis.