Pubdate: Mon, 21 Aug 2017
Source: Winnipeg Sun (CN MB)
Copyright: 2017 Canoe Limited Partnership
Author: Joyanne Pursaga
Page: 5


Spike in Winnipeg drug overdoses - including opioids

The number of annual drug overdoses in Winnipeg is on the rise.

Data from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) show that
emergency crews are responding to more overdoses, with 1,648 patients
arriving with a drug overdose complaint at emergency rooms and urgent
care facilities during the first seven months of this year. There were
2,565 such calls throughout 2016, up from 1,981 in 2014.

And Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) responded to 1,185
poisoning and overdose calls in 2017 (as of July 31), 1,803 in 2016
and 1,328 in 2014. Both agencies note alcohol is responsible for many

"The calls for generic overdoses have increased over the past number
of years, for sure, and there's no doubt there's been an increase in
the number of opioid responses, as well," said Cory Guest, a public
education co-ordinator for Winnipeg emergency medical services.

WFPS data also includes poisonings, while WRHA data includes overdoses
from prescription and over-the-counter drugs, not just illegal ones.
But officials from both agencies say the threat of opioids appears to
account for part of the increase. WFPS gave out naloxone, an antidote
to fentanyl and other opioids, to 727 patients in 2016, up from 348 in

The city notes the hike partly reflects the fact not all paramedics
were equipped with naloxone and trained to use it until May 2016. But
Guest said the deadly drug remains a key concern. That's especially
the case since the drug is being mixed in with other illegal drugs,
which the user may not know.

"Virtually every illicit street drug on the market has tested positive
for fentanyl. So the big message is, you don't know what you're going
to get. And people have to appreciate really just how quickly you can
die from this drug," Guest said.

Manitoba's Chief Medical Examiner found fentanyl, carfentanil or
furanyl fentanyl were the primary or contributing cause of a combined
31 overdose deaths in the province during 2016. The CME tracked 20
such deaths in 2015 and 13 in 2014.

Arlene Last-Kolb, whose son Jessie died from a fentanyl overdose in
July 2014, said she's spoken with loved ones of fentanyl users who've
overdosed more than once. Last-Kolb believes Winnipeg has a shortage
of publicly funded long-term drug treatment beds that makes it tough
for drug users to get help. Those who seek that treatment often report
that waiting lists range from two weeks to three months, she added.

"I believe my son would be alive right now if he had gotten naloxone
and there was some place for him to go (for help)," Last-Kolb said.

Last-Kolb will participate in an International Overdose Day event at
the Manitoba Legislature at 12:15 p.m. on Aug. 31. She said the
gathering aims to honour those who have died from addiction-related
causes and reduce the stigma of substance abuse. All are welcome to
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