Suspect charged after 5 people overdose on cocaine laced with fentanyl at Ontario party

A 22-year-old Barrie, Ont., man has been charged in connection with the drug overdoses of five people, who police said used cocaine that was laced with an opiate believed to be fentanyl at a party.

Barrie police responded to a report of an unconscious man on Dunlop Street East, in the city’s downtown core, just after midnight Sunday. The man appeared to be in medical distress and police said he had very laboured breathing.

Paramedics were called and treated the 25-year-old Orillia, Ont., man at the scene. A 26-year-old Toronto man and a 26-year-old Barrie man then collapsed nearby a few minutes later.

READ MORE: 5 people overdose after using cocaine laced with suspected fentanyl at Ontario party

Thirty minutes later, police said a 22-year-old Barrie woman collapsed near Fred Grant Square downtown and was found unresponsive.

Police then discovered a 29-year-old Barrie man had also been taken to hospital by paramedics during the same time period.

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All four men and the woman had reportedly attended a party together earlier in the night and it was suspected they had used cocaine and alcohol.

Police said all of them had stopped breathing and were rushed to hospital, but they received medical treatment in time and were later listed in stable condition.

READ MORE: Ontario ‘slow to respond’ to growing opioid overdose crisis: experts

“If they weren’t tended to in the short time that they were, it could have been fatal,” Const. Sarah Bamford told Global News Tuesday, adding that the suspect was known to the victims.

“They did obtain this drug from somebody that was known to them. As to whether this person knew what was in this drug when he sold it to them, that we don’t know. That’s part of our investigation and that’s what we’re trying to figure out.”

On Monday, the unnamed suspect turned himself in at Barrie police headquarters and he was charged with two counts of drug trafficking and five counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm in connection with the overdoses. He was scheduled to appear in court Tuesday.

“I think what we really want to get across to people is that if these individuals, if they weren’t transported to hospital in the short amount of time that they were — this could have been fatal for all five of them,” Bamford said, adding that fentanyl could be laced with any number of drugs.

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“It’s just not cocaine or heroin, it’s the consumption of any drug … by the time you either snort it, inject it, or smoke it you could fall into respiratory arrest almost immediately.”

Bamford said one of the difficulties police face with these types of cases is that toxicology reports can take months to be compiled, which can slow down investigations.

“If police were able to receive a toxicology report a bit quicker than what we do, it would definitely help with our investigations. It would help close off the investigation,” she said.

“But in the meantime, when we have overdoses and we believe it’s as a result of mixed drugs, waiting on those toxicology reports is all that we can really do.”

In Ontario, statistics on opioid overdose deaths are overseen by the Ontario Chief Coroner’s Office — but that data was last released in 2014. Meaning there is no up-to-date picture of how bad the problem currently is.

READ MORE: Ontario needs to better track opioid deaths, despite health minister’s claims: critics

Bamford said fentanyl is particularly dangerous because drug dealers will “misrepresent” the drug to recreational users and sell it as a different substance, such as cocaine.

“Nowadays, you don’t know because the reason why so many drugs are being laced, or cut with different agents, is because they can create more and these dealers can make more money,” she said.

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“And unfortunately that’s being done without taking people’s safety and health into consideration.”

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