May 25th, 2024

Officer speaks to SACPA about city’s drug trends

By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on May 3, 2024.

Herald photo by Alejandra Pulido-Guzman Sgt. Ryan Darroch moves his hands and arms as he demonstrates behaviour police use to identify when an individual is reacting to drug use, during his presentation to SACPA Thursday at the Lethbridge Seniors Citizens Organization.


The Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs on Thursday hosted Lethbridge Police Service Sgt. Ryan Darroch with the Downtown Policing Unit to speak about the current drug crisis within the city.

Prior to his presentation, Darroch told the Herald he would be talking about the current drug trends and crime trends within the downtown area, which for LPS means the area between Stafford Drive to the east, Highway 3 to the north, 6 Avenue to the south and Scenic Drive and/or the river valley to the west. Their area also includes the shelter area near Central Village Mall.

“Today is just an education piece to showcase the type of drugs that are a problem within our city being methamphetamine and fentanyl. We kind of moved away from crack cocaine and heroin, which we’ve seen in the past,” said Darroch.

 He said he would talk about signs of impairment by those drugs, how they compare to each other and how some of them have led to increase crime due to aggressive and higher risk-taking behaviours.

When starting his presentation, Darroch gave those in attendance a warning on how raw and honest the information was going to be.

He began by saying the drug crisis is something LPS is dealing with on a daily basis, with young officers being exposed to it at the start of their careers and how they had to deal with people losing their lives due to overdoses every day.

“A lot of my young police officers that I work with are dealing with a lot of these sudden deaths in public places, in residences and stuff. These are young police officers who signed up to be police officers, who feel more like morticians lately,” said Darroch.

He clarified that he was not trying to diminish death in any way, he wanted to make sure those in attendance realized he was not being disrespectful, it is simply something that unfortunately police deal with on a daily basis.

“I don’t mean to come across like that, we just deal with it a lot. It’s a bit of a normal thing for us, which I think in my soul wrong, because we shouldn’t have to deal with this much death,” said Darroch.

He then went on to explain the two main drugs that have taken over the city fall under two different categories. One is a stimulant and the other one is a depressant.

“We have two drugs which have totally taken over our drug crisis via stimulus – methamphetamine and fentanyl.”

 Darroch explained that methamphetamine falls under the stimulant category as it puts the system in overdrive, while fentanyl is the opposite, a depressant which slows everything down.

 “A stimulant increases your heart rate, increases your breath rates or stimuli. Methamphetamine is the king of stimulants and makes things go way faster,” said Darroch.

 He told the Herald that by comparison, cocaine would be a three out of 10 in stimulation, while methamphetamine is a 12.5 out of 10.

 During his presentation, Darroch mentioned one of the biggest problems police encounter with methamphetamine is the cheap street value.

 “When methamphetamine first hit the downtown it was expensive, now in the downtown core you can get a hit of meth for $4 – that is a 0.1 grams portion,” said Darroch.

When explaining its side effects, Darroch said meth leads to restlessness, hyperactivity, twitching, tremors, numbness, repetitive and obsessive behaviours, dilated pupils, dry mouth, dry and/or itchy skin, blood pressure changes and increased body temperature.

He then spoke about the misconception regarding meth consumption producing needle debris.

“There’s a bit of a misconception in our city that there’s needles everywhere and 100 per cent that was true between 2016 and 2019, especially during the height of our supervised consumption site,” said Darroch.

 He said back then police saw thousands of needles – he believes the highest number was 66,000 – distributed in one month.

 “That is 100 per cent not the case anymore. We do not see a whole lot of needles being used in public. I’m not saying it does not happen, but if you were saying that there are a lot of needles around the city of Lethbridge, you were not here in 2018,” said Darroch.

 He said this is in part because meth consumption has switched to smoking instead of injecting.

 “The primary way that people are consuming methamphetamine now is smoking. There’s a special pipe that is a long glass tube with a bulb on the bottom on the end of it, and they put methamphetamine inside that. They light it up with a butane torch and inhale it,” said Darroch.

 He said people use this method because it is a quick and easy way to get meth into their system. If they were to use needles, they have to mix it up, warm it up, dilute it because methamphetamine is a crystal that dissolves in water and only then they would inject it into themselves.

 “It takes time and it’s a little bit dirtier and a lot of our at-risk population don’t want to go through that,” said Darroch.

When talking about fentanyl, Darroch mentioned that a lot of good people have lost their lives to it and it is very frustrating. He explained the risk people take when consuming it.

“There’s no quality control for this stuff like when you buy prescription medication – there is a weight amount of active ingredients in the prescribed amount that you’re receiving. They do not have that when it comes to street drugs,” said Darroch. “Fentanyl can be one or two flakes of fentanyl on that pill, or that portion there could be 10. You really don’t know what you’re getting.”

He said because of this, people who have used fentanyl for a period of time and have not encountered a problem continue to use it thinking the drug is safe and one day they get a higher dose and overdose, especially when using it unaccompanied.

When talking about the effects of opiates in the human body Darroch said the chemicals in the drug hijack the natural opiate receptors in the central nervous system in the brain and replace them with synthetic dopamine. Suddenly the person feels happy and experiences a rush of ease while being in euphoria.

“That first high that they get is always the best and they spend the rest of their addiction journey trying to get back to that level,” said Darroch.

He described the signs of impairment with the most obvious one being what they call the zombie stance, when a person is slumped over in an unnatural position.

“For people who are in that kind of overdose or NOD stage, if you use too much fentanyl, you can fall asleep, which we call the nod. The skin may be a little bit clammy, you might get blue lips, blue fingers, fingernails, inability to communicate effectively. They might be really slow, or just literally falling asleep while you’re talking to them, or even in a very agitated situation they are completely unresponsive.”

He said people also consume fentanyl by smoking it, which is also another reason for the absence of needles on city streets.

“People will use a glass pipe that’s called a straight shooter. They’ll put fentanyl on a piece of tinfoil and light the bottom of it, which he heats it up, turns it into a smoke and then they inhale it through the pipe. If you come across these in your backyard or in a back alley or around kids in a playground, please don’t touch it and contact Clean Sweep or The Watch,” said Darroch.

 He said there could be residue of fentanyl on those pieces, and it is not safe to touch it.

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