Recent shootings tied to the rise of fentanyl, police believe

A recent surge in shooting incidents in Hamilton is connected to the rise of the deadly opioid fentanyl, according to officers from a new police task force that’s investigating gun violence and drug trafficking in the city.

Police formed that unit last month in response to an increase in shooting incidents. There have been 14 shootings in Hamilton so far this year, punctuated with two homes being riddled with bullets on Saturday morning and Monday morning, respectively.

Officers from this new task force were not made available for interviews this week because they are involved in undercover work, said Const. Jerome Stewart.

They did answer questions via email, and said in a statement that there is a correlation between the spike in shootings and the powerful prescription painkiller fentanyl.

“Drugs are big business and there is a lot of money to be made,” the statement reads. “When you are dealing with large amounts of cash and drugs, it also makes you a potential target.”

Long an issue in Hamilton, the opioid problem in the city just keeps getting worse.

According to the latest statistics from the city, Hamilton paramedics responded to 121 incidents related to suspected opioid overdoses so far this year.

And according to preliminary reports, there were 60 opioid-related deaths in the city in the first quarter of 2018, which is 29 per cent higher than the same period the year before.

In 2017, 88 Hamilton residents died of opioid overdose, making Hamilton’s death rate a staggering 72 per cent higher than the provincial average.

These shootings are happening in residential areas. On Monday morning, a family in upper Stoney Creek woke up to find their home full of bullet holes, and a bullet lodged in one of the inside walls after smashing through a window.

That came just under 48 hours after a home in an east end townhouse complex was shot up in broad daylight. Bullet holes could still be seen at that home Monday morning, right next to some children’s bikes and a scooter.

Officers from the city’s new task force said they are “always concerned” when incidents like this occur as “any shooting is a risk to the community.”

“Although we believe the vast majority of incidents are targeted, they are still not acceptable — one shooting is too many for our community,” the statement reads.

Police say that the vast majority of the guns they are seizing during arrests are coming from across the border — last year, almost 80 per cent of handguns they saw were traced back to the U.S.

When asked if they are currently working with any other police services, the officers said if a connection is made with another jurisdiction, they are working with outside agencies in an effort to make arrests.