In 2015, the Greater Sudbury Police in Toronto, Canada began investigating a suspected drug trafficker, Sean Holmes, who they believed, was selling the addictive drug, fentanyl, along with other suspects. The police noticed that he travelled frequently to meet one Liridon Imerovik, whom the police suspected was supplying Holmes with the drug.
Fentanyl is an opioid-based painkiller much more potent than morphine and is prescribed in slow release patches for the treatment of chronic pain. But a vast illicit market has resulted in thousands of accidental overdoses and the addiction to the drug is considered a deadly epidemic.
Evidence at the time of arrest
Police arrested Imerovik on January 19, 2016 after he met with Holmes. He had in his possession a substantial amount of fentanyl, a lot of cash as well as the drug prescriptions and even the names of persons for whom the prescriptions were purportedly made. All the patients on the list had been dispensed the drug from one particular pharmacy.
The drugs were traced back to the pharmacy and ultimately to the doctor who wrote the prescriptions for the drug. The prescriptions were phony. Police later found out that people were lined up to as fake patients and were paid up to $500 to participate in the scam. An investigation into the doctor’s practice revealed that patients who came to him with existing fentanyl prescriptions had them renewed with little or no oversight.
The doctor’s files revealed scanty, if any, justification supporting the legitimate prescription of the drug. And in some cases, the quantity of the drug prescribed was that associated with end-of-life palliative care.
Thorough police investigations often lead to a guilty plea as the evidence gathered is overwhelming. Usually, such evidence is disclosed to an accused person at the beginning of a criminal trial. The accused are then advised by their lawyers to enter a guilty plea in exchange for a lighter sentence. And this is what happened when the police broke up the fentanyl trafficking ring.
Imerovik pleaded guilty to trafficking hundreds of fentanyl patches and was sentenced to three concurrent sentences of nearly six years in a minimum-security jail. He confessed before the judge that although he knew how dangerous the drug was and its potential to do harm to others, his main aim was having a constant supply for himself.
He later stopped using the drug and entered into a drug rehabilitation programme and also told his family about his drug addiction. He, however, put much of the blame on the pharmaceutical companies and the medical profession who touted fentanyl as a miracle drug.
Imerovik told court that after serving his sentence he intended to move to Macedonia, his mother’s native country, to attend university and to start a new life working with people suffering from drug addiction.
But this was not the first time that the other drug dealer, Holmes, was facing criminal prosecution. He was convicted for drug possession in 2007, in what would be the first of a number of such convictions and stints in jail.
His use of opiates continued while he was in the penitentiary in 2010 and 2011. When he finished his sentence, he enjoyed a relative period of sobriety and held down a good job in the mining industry.
Prolonged history of drug abuse
Holmes began using fenatyl in 2013 and for the next two to three years he was using seven to nine doses a day. This, to the judge who sentenced him in August 2017, was an extremely high rate of use of the drug and indicated that Holmes was severely addicted. To the judge, technically, Holmes was an addict trafficker, although there was a very big commercial aspect to his trafficking. The judge sentenced him to 77 months (six years, five months) in jail.
“Mr. Holmes, good luck,” concluded the judge, “I don’t think anybody wants to be addicted to drugs, and I hope you are able to overcome it.”
Among the estimated 271 million past-year users of any drug, some 35.0 million or almost 13 per cent, are estimated to suffer from drug use disorders, meaning that their drug use is harmful to the point where they may experience drug dependence and/or require treatment.
Lack of knowledge about substances and the consequences of their use is among the main factors that increase an individual’s vulnerability to drug use. Some of the other main vulnerability factors include: genetic predisposition, personality traits, the presence of mental and behavioural disorders, family neglect and abuse, poor attachment to school and the community, social norms and environments conducive to substance use (including the influence of media).
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