A dozen people — including a 31-year-old Toronto physician — have been arrested and two drug “super labs” have been taken over by officers after a major drug bust, according to Hamilton police.
It’s the product of a two-year investigation, dubbed Project Odeon, which ended in early August after police infiltrated a drug network poised to supply people across Ontario with synthetic drugs.
“The scale of these super laboratories has the capacity to produce hundreds of kilograms of fentanyl,” said Hamilton Police Supt. Marty Schulenberg during a press conference on Thursday.
The estimated street value of the drugs is $4 million, police said.
Eight people from Hamilton, three from Niagara region and the Toronto physician were arrested, facing a combined 48 charges.
At least one more person may be charged, police said.
Insp. Ben Thibodeau said although an official quantitative analysis is not available yet, product from the lab was most likely for all Ontario, “if not beyond.”
Opioid death spurred investigation
Thibodeau said during the press conference the operation started in Nov. 23, 2021, when police responded to an 911 call about an overdose death on the Hamilton Mountain.
He said it was determined the man’s death was caused by exposure to toxic chemicals in the residence.
Schulenberg said police suspected a link between the Nov. 23 overdose death, an earlier overdose in Hamilton that resulted in a hospitalization, and an overdose death in Toronto that “occurred within days of one another.”
“It became quickly obvious that the house was the site of a large-scale, clandestine laboratory that’s trying to produce fentanyl,” he said.
The lab had the capacity to produce up to 139 pounds of fentanyl at a time, said Thibodeau.
The investigation continued for over a year, said Thubodeau, where based on the “staggering amount of waste,” police say the drug manufacturing took place for “an extended period of time.”
Based on lab equipment, police tracked an American company that sold three items of lab equipment to an Oshawa, Ont.-based company.
“From the movement of lab equipment, investigators were able to piece together an extensive drug network,” said Thibodeau.
He later told reporters both companies been collaborating with authorities and neither is thought to have broken the law.
Search warrants in Hamilton, Mount Albert, Smithville, Toronto, Whitchurch-Stouffville, and Vaughan led to the seizure of an operational fentanyl lab in Smithville in the Niagara region and a dismantled one in Stouffville in the Greater Toronto Area.
Police also seized over 141 pounds of illicit drugs, including fentanyl, meth and ketamine. They also found 3½ tons of chemical byproduct, 3,028 litres of chemicals, and a gun.
Police also found over a $250,000 worth of clothes and jewellery bought with the drug money.
Police ask public to look out for drug labs
“It is common knowledge now that opioid addiction have resulted in significant and far reaching impacts in Hamilton and throughout the country,” said Schulenberg.
“Like in many other communities across the GTHA, Hamilton has been grappling with devastating consequences.”
Hamilton has seen 89 suspected drug-related deaths this year, according to police.
There were 100 deaths linked to opioid use in the first half of 2022, and 170 deaths in 2021 — an “exponential rise” from 26 in 2005, according to city statistics.
Paula Milne, detective superintendent with the OPP, urged members of the public during Thursday’s press conference to educate themselves on indicators of a clandestine laboratory.
“Indicators include but are not limited to suspicious activity and chemical odours, garbage that contains numerous chemical containers or glassware, and evidence of chemical dumping grounds on or near premises,” she said.
She asked if someone believes a lab is operating in a community, to call police.