B.C. takes on pill presses with a bill to battle fentanyl

Mike Farnworth

IN a move against the illegal production of illicit opioids and to help keep them off the streets, the Province on Wednesday announced it is toughening regulations on pill-press machines and other similar pharmaceutical equipment.

The new Pill Press and Related Equipment Control Act is comprehensive legislation that is part of a broader scheme of initiatives intended to help law enforcement address the fentanyl crisis in British Columbia. The bill aims at restricting ownership, possession and use of equipment that can be used to make illicit drugs, such as automated pill presses, gel cap machines and pharmaceutical mixers.

“Police have asked for more control and monitoring of who has use of pill presses,” said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. “This bill is critical in bolstering police efforts to disrupt the supply chain and get counterfeit pills off of the streets and out of the hands of those who recklessly distribute death-dealing drugs.”

The act will limit lawful ownership of pill presses, and other similar pharmaceutical equipment, to individuals or corporations authorized under the legislation. This includes those with a legitimate business or professional purpose, such as production of drugs or natural health food products, those given a waiver to produce other products that rely on this technology and registered pill-press sellers. The act also sets out significant penalties for offences committed in relation to controlled equipment and activities.

B.C.’s Pill Press and Related Equipment Control Act is more comprehensive than the legislation that was introduced by Alberta and the federal government in 2016. The federal legislation only requires registration of pill or tablet presses and gel cap machines on import into Canada, and there are no limitations on who can own the equipment.

B.C.’s legislation requires those who want to sell the equipment to register and agree to a criminal record check. There are also notification requirements for when people acquire and dispose of the equipment, as well as powers to appoint inspectors, so that compliance with the legislation can be monitored. All of the provisions will make it easier to track where controlled equipment is, and easier to take it out of the hands of those who are not authorized owners.

“We are losing too many people from all walks of life – friends, neighbours and loved ones – whose lives have been tragically cut short by a toxic, illegal drug supply,” said Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “We know that no illegal drugs are safe, and introducing this legislation will make it harder for people to produce and distribute illegal drugs. We need to approach this problem from all sides and at all levels to save lives and prevent future tragedies.”

Pill-press machines, and other similar pharmaceutical equipment, can be used to turn illicit drugs, like fentanyl, into counterfeit tablets that are sold on the streets, and are able to churn out thousands of pills per hour.

“The B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police is pleased to see the Province take a leadership role in regulating pill presses and related equipment,” said President of the BCACP and Chief Constable Del Manak. “This is an important new tool that will be critical in helping us get counterfeit pills off the streets, and will serve as a model for the rest of Canada.”

In addition to this legislation, B.C. is undertaking action to escalate the response to the overdose crisis, including:

* creating new dedicated anti-trafficking teams within the provincial RCMP and Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit;

* providing additional resources for all police agencies to support actions against‎ organized crime importers and traffickers, to help stem the flow of fentanyl into B.C.;

* increasing support for police-based outreach in communities to proactively reach people who are seen to be high-risk;

* providing additional funding for the BC Coroners Service to expand the Drug-Death Investigations Team, and meet an increase in workload and lab testing;

* supplying the City of Surrey with a $175,000 grant to help in their effort to combat the opioid crisis, and to fund collaborative interventions that will help connect vulnerable people to the services they need through new approaches; and

* investing $322 million in new funding and launching the Overdose Emergency Response Centre to combat the overdose crisis and spearhead urgent action to save lives.

The Province said it will continue to work on a multi-pronged strategy targeted at gangs, drug traffickers and importers to get deadly drugs off the streets, and remains committed to addressing some of the core causes of the opioid crisis, including homelessness, poverty, trauma and the need for improved enforcement.