Mayor John Tory says he is “extremely concerned” about the more than 20 incidents of drug-related overdoses, including four fatalities, across the city over the past few days.
“Every one of these overdoses is a tragedy, and each loss of a life has a devastating impact on families, friends and the community as a whole,” wrote Tory.
He added that he will continue to work with Toronto Public Health and police on “developing and implement action plans to try to prevent these deaths and to reduce drug overdoes and drug use generally.”
Toronto police said a 27-year-old man died near Queen Street West and Bathurst Street on Thursday. They said it’s possible he ingested heroin laced with fentanyl. Officers said the substance was purchased in the Yonge and Dundas streets area. Police said at the time, they were aware of another death which had similarities.
On Friday, a man was found in a park near Bathurst Street and Dundas Street West without vital signs. Police said he was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead.
A day later, a woman was found dead in the stairwell of a building near Parliament Street and Queen Street East. Officers said they believe her death was drug-related, but added it’s too early to determine if it was fentanyl-related.
Const. Craig Brister told Global News Saturday that one of the people who died and one who survived an overdose had confirmed traces of fentanyl in their system. He said investigators are still working to confirm if the other victims ingested the opioid. Brister said there were similarities between the cases.
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Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate narcotic, primarily used for pain management. It is a pharmaceutical that is legal with a prescription, and comes in the form of patches, lozenges or a nasal spray. It is anywhere from 50 to 100 times stronger than other opioids like morphine, heroin or oxycodone.
In 2010, there were 421 fatal opioid overdoses in Ontario, with 93 of those being opioid and alcohol-related.
In 2015, that number rose dramatically to 551, with 159 deaths related to alcohol and opioids, according to the latest available preliminary data released last month by Ontario’s Chief Coroner. Eighty-six of those deaths were caused by fentanyl in 2010, with five related to alcohol, which almost doubled to 167 in 2015, with 37 of those related to alcohol.
In total, 710 Ontarians are believed to have died from opioid-related deaths in 2015.
Harm-reduction expert Walter Cavalieri told Global News there needs to be a shift in how drug addictions are dealt with.
“A criminal justice or law-and-order approach hasn’t worked. We need a health approach, but we also need to look seriously at how we control and regulate drugs,” he said.
Cavalieri believes better regulation could help prevent overdose deaths.
“Every opiod death is reversible and unnecessary,” he said.
Meanwhile, police are urging those who may come into contact with heroin to “exercise extreme caution.” Brister advises contacting police if dangerous or suspicious items are found.
“If anybody is out and about and they come across something, such as needles or a substance they’re unsure about, call us and we’ll deal with it,” he said.
Police said information can also be reported anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 416-222-8477.
With files from Adam Miller and Melissa Gilligan