Drugs a growing concern in district

There is a new wave of criminal activity encroaching on Rainy River District and it’s costing us a lot of money.
That was the message conveyed to delegates attending the 14th-annual convention of the Rainy River District Municipal Association on Saturday in Barwick by one of those who is on the front lines daily.
OPP Det. S/Sgt. Brian Brattengeier is a unit commander with the Tri-Force/Kenora Joint Forces Drug Unit, which is comprised of the OPP, the Thunder Bay Police Service, the Kenora Police Service, the Atikokan Police Service, the Dryden Police Service, and the RCMP.
A drug enforcement officer for more than 20 years, he has seen a subtle, worrisome trend lately.
“Last year, the task force seized $20 million worth of drugs in Northwestern Ontario,” S/Sgt. Brattengeier said. That’s in addition to the $30 million seized in regular highway patrols and up to $10 million caught at the border by Canada Customs.
And that is money taken from some pretty nasty hands. “It could be $60 million going to organized crime,” he stressed.
So where are these drugs coming from? S/Sgt. Brattengeier said a lot of it is intercepted on its way to markets in southern Ontario and the United States.
“Fort Frances is the key smuggling point in Canada,” he remarked. “Fort Frances used to be the marijuana smuggling capital of Northern Ontario.”
But that is changing. More and more marijuana actually is being grown right here—usually in so-called “grow ops”—and that creates another problem for law enforcement.
S/Sgt. Brattengeier showed some slides of ordinary-looking houses, but there was nothing ordinary about them. Each of them was a “grow op” and some of them were equipped with booby traps that could injure or kill an unwary trespasser.
“Their very existence is a threat to your kids,” he warned.
These houses are popping up in virtually every community in the province, including here. As such, S/Sgt. Brattengeier urged people to be vigilant and to look for tell-tale signs, such as lack of maintenance, lack of activity around the house, and blinds or curtains that are constantly drawn.
The reason there is such an increase in “grow ops” is they are so lucrative. S/Sgt. Brattengeier noted each mature plant has a street value of about $1,000 and the average grow house can produce 400 plants at a time.
“Some of you folks might consider getting out of cattle and into growing marijuana,” he quipped, which was greeted with a mixture of laughter and stony silence.
But district residents are paying in other ways. S/Sgt. Brattengeier said one year of activity as a grow house causes, on average, $25,000 in damage in the form of mold, rotting timber, and flooding.
There also is the potential for fire.
But the real losers are those who pay hydro bills. These grow houses require tremendous amounts of electricity to run the powerful lights used to nourish the plants.
Since abnormal hydro consumption is one of the clues authorities use to identify these operations, the growers usually bypass the meter and steal electricity directly from the grid.
“This amounts to $4 billion a year in stolen hydro throughout Ontario,” he observed. “And who do you think winds up paying for that?”
But there is an even more disturbing news. Methamphetamine, or crystal meth, is the fast-growing trend in the illicit drug market.
“It’s all around us,” S/Sgt. Brattengeier noted. “It’s not here [in the district] yet, but it’s going to be. You can count on it.”
He said crystal meth is one of the most addictive substances known—and you don’t need a laboratory to make it. It can be manufactured by anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of chemistry, using little more than items found in most homes and an over-the-counter cold medication.
The problem is, some of the ingredients are toxic and explosive, and houses have been destroyed as a consequence.
But the worst thing about crystal meth is its addictive nature.
“All it takes is one or two times and you’re hooked,” S/Sgt. Brattengeier stressed. “And once you’re hooked, there is a 97 percent chance you’ll never get off it.”
He then showed some disturbing before-and-after photos of people who were hooked. One was of an attractive young woman (around 20) and another of her taken two years later.
In that period, she appeared to have aged at least 20 years and appeared to be at death’s door.
And there are still other drug-related issues facing the district.
“Prescription drug abuse is the most recent trend to hit Northwestern Ontario,” S/Sgt. Brattengeier observed. “Fort Frances [OPP] is seizing pills.”
The prescription drugs most commonly seized are Ridilin and oxycotin—also known as “hillbilly heroin.”
The bottom line, he said, is that the police can only do so much. People have to empower themselves to make sure their communities are not ruined by drugs.
“Please be cognizant of things that are happening in your community,” he pleaded.
If you have reason to believe there is illegal drug activity going on in your neighbourhood, you can reach S/Sgt. Brattengeier at 1-807-475-0198 or the Fort Frances OPP at 274-3322.
You can also call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.
For more information, go to www.tri-forcedrugs.com