An unusual drug concoction made from the seeds of the flower that produces opium is gaining the attention of police and a political leader in an immigrant community who says he's seen families ruined by the addictive brew.
The dried and ground poppyseed mixture, called doda, is typically put into a tea, providing an addictive high that breaks the monotony of repetitive work and helps people get through long hours on the job, say those who've seen the effects of the drug.
Community leaders, police and politicians in Calgary are increasingly worried about the growing popularity of doda among some members of the South Asian community who works as cleaners, cabbies and truck drivers.
"I have seen families ruined by this," said Darshan Kang, the MLA for the northeast riding of Calgary-McCall. "Those people, they will spend all their money on this."
Kang's comments come on the heels of record seizures of doda made in Calgary by Canada Border Services Agency.
On Sept. 22, local CBSA officers inspected a commercial container declared as "dried grasses." Inside, officers found 12 skids containing 2,700 kilos of dried poppy pods worth an estimated $5.454 million.
The next day, CBSA officers became suspicious when a second commercial container declared as "dried flowers" was awaiting clearance for entry into Canada. Officers found 26 skids totalling more than 4,500 kilos of dried poppy pods with an estimated street value of more than $9 million.
According to the CBSA, the pods are typically turned into doda.
Doda is still quite new on the Calgary horizon, emerging in the past couple of years.
But as the substance is sold and users become addicted, there is a fear that if doda is not curbed in this city, it will go the way of street drugs, attracting crime and gang involvement.
"Sure, they think they are working longer hours, they are trying to put the bread and butter on the table. But once they get addicted to this, just to feed their addiction alone, they won't be doing anybody any good," said Kang.
The drug, also known as dode, has caught the attention of Calgary police.
They are preparing a doda plan and within four to six months officers will be trained to identify the substance, said Staff Sgt. Darren Cave with the Calgary police drug unit.
A public awareness effort will warn people the drug is illegal and police will enforce the law.
"From what I know, it is addictive," Cave said.
"If it's being sold and there are quantities now starting to come into our country, there's going to be a profit margin. Once you start getting into money, organized crime becomes involved and if organized crime becomes involved, there will always be that potential for violence."
Cave said police believe they've identified a trend still in its infancy and the plan is meant to proactively get on top of the issue.
The drug has typically been peddled in small grocery stores, flower shops and at flea markets in Calgary, according to police.
Cave said it costs around $10 for 10 grams and brings a quick euphoria, then a longer state of calm.
The powder is brown-greyish in colour and is made from grinding down the husks and pods of opium poppies, he said.
The drug can take a significant toll on users and their families, said Balwinder Singh Kahlon, a founder of Drug Awareness Foundation Calgary, an anti-drug group.
Every few days, Kahlon says he gets a call from the family of someone hooked on doda. He recently heard of a person who went from spending $300 to $1,200 a month on the drug.
"The first time they take (doda), it will increase their working ability," said Kahlon. "When they start using it . . . and next day they need more, next day they need more. Then they become addicted to it. It's an addictive drug."
There have been doda crackdowns by law enforcement in other parts of the country.
In August, Edmonton police seized more than 70 kilograms of dried opium poppy heads and charged one man possession for the purpose of trafficking.
With the recent law enforcement, the sale of doda may not be as open as it was just a few months ago in Calgary, said one community leader.
"It has gone underground, but I'm sure it's there," said Gurinder Singh, a director with Radio Sursangam in Calgary.
There has also been some confusion around the legality of doda. A Health Canada official says any derivative of the opium poppy is prohibited under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Cave said it's that confusion police want to tackle as they make Calgarians aware the drug is illegal.
For MLA Kang, there are two concerns if the doda problem is not handled properly: he fears addiction will lead to broken families and violence within the home, and he worries the sale of the substance might eventually become the territory of criminals.
"The criminal element is going to get involved in this," he said.
"They'll be smuggling it. You know the gang wars, right? And that's what I'm afraid of.
"There will be gang wars on this, too, trying to control their territory, trying to control their turf."
By Richard Cuthbertson
November 16, 2009