Vernon case is the next evolution of the opioid crisis — homemade fentanyl | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Vernon case is the next evolution of the opioid crisis — homemade fentanyl

Members of the RCMP Federal Clandestine Laboratory Enforcement and Response team attend a residence in the 8000 block of Silver Star Road in Vernon as part of an investigation into a clandestine drug lab, Friday, March 31, 2017.
Image Credit: Vernon North Okanagan RCMP
September 10, 2021 - 7:30 AM

A Vernon man sentenced last week to 10 years in prison, represents a new stage in the opioid crisis — the domestic synthesis of the deadly drug fentanyl.

Until Jason Martin Lukacs’ landlord came home a day early from a 10-day vacation in 2016 to find his rural property had become a drug lab, nearly all fentanyl investigations in B.C. involved the importation of fentanyl from China. This is the first case in the province where police have found a complete, sophisticated drug lab producing fentanyl. It also produced unknown quantities of crystal methamphetamine.

Investigators with the RCMP’s Clandestine Laboratory Enforcement and Response Unit told B.C. Supreme Court Justice Sheri Ann Donegan that police have noticed importation of fentanyl powder has declined in recent years and now they know for sure why — it’s being made right here at home.

"The first sophisticated large-scale fentanyl synthesis laboratory encountered by the... unit was (this one),” Donegan wrote. "This discovery coincided with an uptick of intelligence reports about fentanyl precursors and associated non-regulated chemicals being imported or domestically purchased in Canada. Since the time of the discovery of this lab, another was dismantled in 2018 and seven were dismantled in the last year and a half or so.”

READ MORE: Vernon man found guilty for basement meth and fentanyl lab

While methamphetamines remain a popular and destructive drug, fentanyl is responsible for 87% of overdose deaths since 2018. Since 2012, nearly 5,000 people have died from fentanyl overdose in the province.

Lukacs was the only one prosecuted in the case, but he never actually made the drugs.

Donegan heard at his trial that when he learned his landlord was leaving, he allowed two men to create the lab in the home in exchange for cash. They intended to set up shop, remove it and move to another location before the owner, local school teacher Kenneth Pivnick, came back early, found the lab and called police. Pivnick told the court he sunk the majority of his savings into buying the property on Silver Star Road, and rented the main house on the rural property, while he lived in a smaller home to renovate it. Discovery of the drug lab cost him more than $60,000 mitigating the damage.

Police quickly found cargo trailers in the driveway and large quantities of chemicals — including a jug of freebase fentanyl — and lab equipment in the basement, with holes cut throughout the home to vent the chemicals through Lukacs’ daughter’s bedroom. They also found a chemistry text book tabbed to a page describing fentanyl, as well as 1.3 kgs of methamphetamine crystals and roughly a kilogram of fentanyl hydrochloride, almost ready to be made into the finished product.

"These chemicals... had the potential to make very large quantities, again multiple kilograms, of fentanyl,” Donegan wrote.

At the time, Lukacs wasn’t a drug user and had no criminal record. The court heard he was short on cash, having trouble paying rent, and took the opportunity to make some money. All of these factors worked against him at his Aug. 10 sentencing, but the impact of fentanyl on the community, the province and country were most significant.

Donegan noted the ongoing state of emergency in B.C. because of the overdose crisis and the thousands of people who died in 2016 and 2017 from fentanyl, including 36 people in the Vernon area alone. 

"These numbers are staggering, but it must be remembered that these figures represent only the most significant and easily identifiable negative impact these drugs have on our communities,” she wrote. "The numbers do not reveal the suffering these deaths have caused to family members and friends. The numbers do not reveal the broader societal repercussions that flow from addictions to these substances, such as poverty and unemployment, mental health instability, family instability, additional criminality, to name a few.”

READ MORE: Kelowna, Kamloops, Vernon see high number of overdose deaths: chief coroner

She gave Lukacs credit for turning his own life around. He left home by the age of 12, got addicted to various drugs, but quit when he had his first child. He worked several jobs and made his own way before becoming a plumber in Alberta, but when he returned to Vernon he had trouble finding work and sought a quick solution to his financial problems.

But he didn’t get much credit.

"Mr. Lukacs’ offences are very grave. Participating in the production of opioid drugs, especially ones with the lethal potency and destructive effects as fentanyl and methamphetamines, are among the most serious offences in our criminal law,” Donegan wrote. "This was a large-scale sophisticated clandestine lab that produced two very dangerous and destructive drugs in our community. These offences are at the top of the supply chain, the first step in getting them into the hands of members of the public.”

Since the charges, he and his wife returned to a drug life, had their children removed, and Lukacs’ has had several more criminal convictions.

The Crown sought a sentence of 15 years, while Lukacs’ lawyers suggested seven to eight years.

Donegan sentenced him to 10 years in prison and ordered him to repay Pivnicks $60,000.

You can read more about the case here.

READ MORE: Kamloops mayor pleads with drug users not to use alone as overdose death toll climbs in B.C.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Marshall Jones or call 250-718-2724 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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