Peterborough emergency services issued a public warning on Sunday following a reported 13 opioid-related overdoses — two of which were fatal — in a span of 72 hours.
On Sunday afternoon, Peterborough Police Service, Peterborough paramedics and Peterborough Public Health held a joint press conference to sound the alarm about opioid use. The total number of suspected opioid-related deaths this year is now at 16, they said.
On Monday morning, police told Global News Peterborough that there have been three additional overdoses since the 2 p.m. presser on Sunday.
WATCH: ‘We do have a huge crisis here’ Peterborough police, paramedics, discuss 13 opioid-related overdoses in 72 hours
Paramedic Chief Randy Mellow called the 72-hour span “startling” as more than 10 per cent of all paramedics’ calls were opioid- or drug-related. He says the consistent increase in overdoses has reached a “crisis magnitude” in the city.
“The number of overdose incidents this weekend alone has surpassed the total number of May of 2018,” he said.
“It has become evident this weekend that the severity and frequency of serious, life-threatening effects of this drug in our community have reached what I’m calling a crisis in magnitude.”
Deputy Chief Tim Farquharson of the Peterborough police said there were 17 deaths related to opioid overdoses in 2018 and 20 deaths in 2017. As of last week, he said there have been 16 deaths suspected to be the result of an accidental opioid overdose in 2019.
He said police have been aware of 126 overdoses in the city since Jan. 1. Officers responded to 62 of those incidents.
“We do have a huge crisis here,” he said.
Farquharson added that most of the victims have used “purple heroin,” which is actually fentanyl, a drug that’s 100 times stronger than morphine. Some samples of cocaine seized in the city have also shown traces of fentanyl.
“It’s basically playing Russian roulette with other drugs as well,” said Farquharson.
However, he warns that carfentanil, a powerful derivative of fentanyl, is also on the rise. The drug is 1,000 times stronger than fentanyl.
“Just a couple of grains of fentanyl can be a lethal dose,” he said. “With carfentanil, it’s in the micrograms level.”
The deputy police chief says many drug users are mixing drugs with rudimentary tools, putting everyone at risk.
“Basically, a Magic Bullet from Canadian Tire and other forms — nothing pharmaceutical,” said Farquharson. “It’s a huge concern for us because everything out there, in regards to us, is poison.”
Dr. Rosana Salvaterra, Peterborough medical officer of health, advises anyone who is using illicit drugs or has an addiction to seek treatment. She encourages drug users to have a naloxone kit, which can help reverse the effects of opioids, present.
“It’s important to ensure anyone that is using drugs is using them safely,” she said. “They should not use them alone or (use) them at the same time.”
Salvaterra also added that drug users should make sure “that they have a naloxone kit.”
She noted that users can access Peterborough Regional Health Centre’s Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) clinic held at PARN at 159 King St. for help including treatment, addiction medication, counselling and prescription therapies.
All three officials encouraged users to call 911 in case of an overdose. Under the Good Samaritan Act, callers would not face criminal charges.
“Naloxone can save a life if administered,” said Mellow. “But its effects in reversing the side effects are temporary. Overdoses need thorough, professional and medical assessment to ensure a full recovery.”
WATCH: Naloxone kits and how to use them