July 21, 2019

A health alert was posted by Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health after reports that a contaminated substance has caused new overdose symptoms in the Guelph area.

The symptoms were observed at the overdose prevention site (OPS), which is housed in the Guelph Community Health Centre.

According to Guelph police, officers responded to four cases of overdoses occurring in individuals who may have been using cocaine. Their symptoms were consistent with an opioid overdose. That led to a contaminated substance (possibly cocaine) alert.

The new symptoms include body stiffness, flailing, slow or irregular heart rate, confusion, different-sized pupils and extreme anxiety.

“We are seeing a completely different type of opioid overdose lately,” said Raechelle Devereaux, executive director for the Guelph Community Health Centre. “It used to be that you would overdose within minutes of taking the drug, but now we are seeing it take as long as 30 minutes before symptoms occur. This is a problem because you might think you or your friend is fine and leave before the symptoms start to happen. This means that no one can administer naloxone for you and you certainly won’t be able to do it yourself. Naloxone is a life-saving drug if you can get it on time which is why you should always carry it with you if you or someone you know uses illicit drugs.”

Concerns over fentanyl use and overdose reports have been increasing over the past few years in the region; however, opioid deaths have been going down, thanks to the readily available drug, naloxone.

“There are a lot of unknown drugs inside your drugs and anyone can overdose,” said Guelph Police Insp. Cate Welsh. “I used to say just don’t do drugs, but that never works. Now I say, if you are going to do drugs, be safe. Naloxone is a life-saving drug and it’s available for free. Having it can be the difference between life and death.”

The alert system was set up in August 2018 to ensure that at-risk populations can be notified quickly of such public concerns and prevent more overdoses from occurring.

Chuck Ferguson, communications manager for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, said, “Preventing disease and injury is the mandate of public health and we work with everyone in the community to help them stay as well as they can be. Our harm-reduction services include helping substance users. Opioid deaths are preventable and we are committed to responding with all the tools at our disposal to help members of our community.”

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