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Drug alert issued for Peterborough area after 14 overdoses over weekend

Click to play video: 'Peterborough Public Health reports weekend spike in drug poisonings'
Peterborough Public Health reports weekend spike in drug poisonings
Peterborough Health Officials continue to urge caution on the heels of a spike in drug poisonings. Over the weekend, 14 people required EMS or were transported to the Emergency Department due to poisonings. Robert Lothian has the details – Feb 13, 2024

Health officials have issued a drug poisoning alert for the Peterborough, Ont., area following a rash of overdoses on the weekend.

Peterborough Public Health says there were 14 drug poisonings within its jurisdiction which required a visit to an emergency department or a call for paramedics. The regional health unit serves Peterborough, Peterborough County, Curve Lake First Nation and Hiawatha First Nation.

No deaths were reported.

Jocelyn Qualtrough, the health unit’s substance use and harm reduction team health promoter, says the substance is orange and green with sedative effects.

Unlike an overdose where too much of a drug is used, Qualtrough says in this case, the drug supply is tainted.

And health officials warn naloxone cannot reverse the effects of sedatives, requiring paramedics to attend. Naloxone is a drug which can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

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“Typically, paramedics will offer treatment that falls within their scope and where treatment fails they will transfer to hospital,” said Peterborough County-City Paramedics new chief Patricia Bromfield.

The spike comes a week after Belleville, Ont., experienced 17 overdoses in a 24-hour span. In that city, officials also reported the drug was likely laced with a sedative.

“We were very cautious in looking at what might this drug be and what are the effects, but it’s hard to say if the substances are the same,” said Qualtrough. “We have no confirmation on that.”

The last drug poisoning alert issued for the Peterborough region was in mid-January.

Overdose data

The health unit’s opioids harm data portal reports six suspected fatal drug overdoses within its jurisdiction in January 2024.

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It comes after a record-high 78 suspected deaths by drug overdoses occurred in 2023, topping 59 in 2022. The health unit says the 78 deaths is equivalent to one person dying from a drug poisoning every five days.

January also saw 31 emergency department visits for drug poisonings — down slightly from 35 reported in December 2023. Throughout 2023, there were 424 emergency department visits for a drug overdose, up from 405 reported in 2022, according to the portal.

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Over the last 12 months (February 2023 to January 2024), there were 422 visits to the emergency department for an overdose with 56 per cent of the visits by men. Fifty-six per cent of all visits were by people between the age of 25 to 44, the portal reports.

The health unit says 89 per cent of ED visits were to the Peterborough Regional Health Centre with nearly half occurring between 4 p.m. and midnight.

Also in January 2024, there were 19 calls to 911 for a drug overdose, down from 42 reported a month earlier.

At Fourcast, which offers a consumption and treatment facility on Simcoe Street in downtown Peterborough, there were 12 overdoses that were reversed in December.

Fourcast executive director Donna Rogers says issues related to the opioid crisis have “outstripped out ability to respond in meaningful ways.”

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“The system was already taxed 15 years ago,” she said.

The Canadian  Mental Health Association’s Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge Branch continues to develop the 12-bed detox and treatment program to assist those fighting drug addictions.

“We are seeing the effects of a poisoned drug supply, so when the supply is unstable it’s really hard to anticipate what services to put into place; what we can anticipate in terms of what an overdose might look like,” said Kerri Kightley, the CMHA HKPR’s programs and services director.

She says Peterborough is fortunate to have tools to help those battling drug addictions.

“I think we’ve cobbled together in Peterborough some really great resources in order to test drugs,” she said. “I think harm reduction equipment is something that’s key – more conversation about the reality of what drug use is.”

Rogers says more resources are still needed in the region.

“The problem is we have all the solutions, but we probably don’t have enough of them,” she said.

Precautions

The health unit advises that anyone who uses drugs, or knows someone who does, should take the following precautions:

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  • Don’t use drugs alone — visit the Consumption Treatment Services site at 220 Simcoe St. in Peterborough (new hours open 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily).
  • Test a small amount of the drug before you use it.
  • Avoid mixing drugs or sharing drugs.
  • Avoid using damaged or modified pipes/needles.
  • If you are alone, call the National Overdose Response Service (NORS) virtual safe consumption line at 1-888-668-NORS (6677), or call a friend.
  • Ensure that emergency services can be contacted in the event of an overdose.
  • Keep multiple naloxone kits on hand which help reverse the effects of an overdose. You can get a kit at most pharmacies and needle exchange sites. To find out how to access naloxone visit peterboroughpublichealth.ca and search for “opioids” or find the Accessing Naloxone pdf.

Use Peterborough Public Health’s Drug Reporting Tool to anonymously report overdose incidents and harms in the community.

— with files from Robert Lothian/Global News Peterborough 

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