BY SARA SASILA
Between Jan. 23 and Jan. 26 there were five non-fatal overdoses and one fatal overdose reported in Waterloo Region.
Heroin was used in five instances and fentanyl, a similar but stronger drug than morphine, was used in the other.
“The Waterloo Region Integrated Drug Strategy (WRIDS) issued an alert to the public because of the unusually high number,” said Shirley Hilton, staff sergeant of the Waterloo Region Police Services (WRPS) – drug branch.
“The alert was issued to ensure people who were using substances, those providing direct services, and friends and family were aware of the high number of overdoses.”
The most severe drug used in Waterloo Region is opioids. Opioids include painkillers like oxycodone, hyrdromorphone, fentanyl, methadone, codeine and heroin. One of the concerns the WRPS has is the presence of bootleg fentanyl, which has been mixed with other substances such as heroin and is believed to be in the region.
The WRIDS launched a community-based effort to monitor, alert and respond to overdoses and tainted drugs called Overdose Monitoring, Alert and Response System (OMARS). Citizens and service providers are encouraged to report any drug overdoses to the WRIDS and WRPS.
“We (WRPS) believe that the collaborative community effort across sectors including emergency responders, health and outreach services is currently our best approach to reduce deaths and injuries resulting from overdoses,” said Hilton.
OMARS was developed because of the concern of bootleg fentanyl. In Waterloo Region, bootleg fentanyl in both pill and powder form has been seized by enforcement and authorities. It has been found pressed into pills and mixed in with other substances including heroin, cocaine and crystal meth. The mixed drug is driving overdose deaths to an unsettling number in Canada, especially in British Columbia and Alberta.
“Currently one person dies every 14 hours from an opioid-related death in Ontario,” said Gregory Paul, Waterloo Region Integrated Drug Services co-ordinator. Paul said Waterloo Region is possibly the first in Ontario to develop a monitoring system for drug overdoses.
“The absence of a ‘real time’ surveillance system does not exist for overdoses in Ontario,” he said. “A monitoring system was first recommended in 2008 because of the concern about bootleg fentanyl killing unsuspecting members of the public.”
Elements of OMARS include monitoring, alerting and responding to overdoses.
“The response system can work to save lives and reduce injuries due to overdose,” said Paul. “There is limited capability at present but we are fortunate to have some naloxone (a synthetic drug that blocks opiate receptors) available courtesy of Sanguen Health Care and Waterloo Region Public Health.”
Unlike epinephrine (a drug injected for emergency medical treatment), naloxone is not widely available in Ontario, which makes it harder to treat severe cases.
“As part of the Waterloo Region Integrated Drug Strategy, the goal is to make Waterloo Region safer and healthier by looking at interventions to prevent, reduce or eliminate problematic substance use and its consequences,” said Hilton.