Opioid use appears to be on the rise in Winnipeg as overdoses have spiked in the first half of the year.
Numbers provided by the city show Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) crews administered Naloxone, a medication that can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, 144 times in May of this year, compared to 75 times in May of 2019.
Between January and May, 431 patients required Naloxone. In that same period last year, Naloxone was administered 292 times by first responders.
“The increased use of Narcan is really a scary trend, which means that the incoming street drugs that we’re seeing are just that deadly,” WFPS public education coordinator Cory Guest said.
An increase in substance use was noticed around the time COVID-19 was first detected in Manitoba, according to Guest.
“We’re not able to correlate our increase of substance use calls directly to COVID-19, but it’s safe to say we’d be naive if we didn’t think it had an impact on that,” Guest said.
Marion Willis, founder of Morberg House, noticed a rise in opioid use, specifically fentanyl, around the same time. She attributes it to pricier and harder-to-find meth, which she believes was caused by significant drug busts by police and the coronavirus pandemic.
“Addicts don’t stop using,” Willis said. “They just look for something else to use and we found that it seems like the next popular drug to use these days is actually fentanyl.”
Willis said meth has since made a significant comeback, which police have noticed as well.
“Over the last little while what we’ve seen is fairly depressed meth prices which indicates high supply,” Cst. Rob Carver said.
Carver and Guest say both police and paramedics are finding people who are mixing street drugs, but can’t always tell exactly which drugs unless the user willingly provides that information.
“That’s a challenge for our paramedics because they’re not only facing one substance, they can be facing multiple substances,” Guest said.
Willis said meth and fentanyl are the two drugs that are often combined.
“Both drugs are extremely problematic right now,” Willis said.
Former meth user and Morberg House resident Carey Hickaway said some drug dealers are selling meth laced with fentanyl without the buyers’ knowledge.
“There has been tainted supplies of meth and I tested positive for fentanyl when not using,” Hickaway said.
Manitoba’s chief medical examiner’s office said it doesn’t have numbers on fatal opioid overdoses as it can take several months to confirm a cause of death.