The accused, who range in age from 26 to 59, face nearly 100 criminal charges in what police describe as the largest drug seizure in the city’s history.
Most of the people charged live in St. Thomas. Three are from London and one is from Malahide.
Herridge said the investigation by the street crimes unit that began in March initially focused on the trafficking of crystal methamphetamine downtown and expanded to pursue fentanyl suppliers.
“It was time to address it and clean up our downtown,” Herridge said at the rare news conference, noting property crime is up almost 89 per cent and criminal charges up 72 per cent compared to last year.
Officers seized more than four kilograms of crystal methamphetamine and nearly 60 grams of both purple fentanyl and powder fentanyl – a deadly prescription drug that’s sparked warnings by police and health officials in several Southwestern Ontario communities – in about 20 searches.
Police valued the drugs at $500,000.
Officers also seized large knives and a firearm.
“Today we are proud of our skilled and talented staff who have worked together, with the assistance of partner agencies, to make this the largest drug seizure in the history of St. Thomas and the largest fentanyl seizure in this region,” Herridge said.
He warned drug traffickers that police will remain vigilant.
“This initiative is not done,” he said. “This will be ongoing. This administration, this police service and this police service’s board are committed to keeping this community safe.”
No St. Thomas police officer goes a day without a community member asking them to do something about the drug problem, said Det. Const. Frank Boyes of the street crimes unit.
“I think it’s important that (the traffickers) know that we will track them down and we will find out who’s supplying drugs into this city and we’ll hold them accountable,” Boyes said.
Progressive Conservative MPP Jeff Yurek praised the investigation.
“I am aware of the devastating effects of fentanyl in our communities and am glad our streets are now that much safer,” the Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP said. “We must continue to be vigilant in combatting the opioid crisis in Elgin-Middlesex-London and across the province.”
A highly addictive opioid pain medication, fentanyl is 100 times more powerful than morphine; a related drug, carfentanil, is 100 times more toxic than fentanyl.
Both drugs have been blamed for fuelling the deadly opioid crisis in Canada that killed 1,053 in Ontario between January and October 2017, compared with 694 during the same time period the previous year, according to government statistics.