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Public Health warning for people who use drugs

As an increase in drug-related overdoses has been seen across the province in recent weeks – including in neighbouring public health units, Hastings Prince Edward Public Health (HPEPH) is reminding people who use recreational drugs to take extra precaution to avoid overdose.

“The unregulated drug supply has become extremely unpredictable during the pandemic,” said Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health and CEO at HPEPH. “Toronto’s Drug Checking Service has issued alerts regarding contaminated drug supply that contains opioids much stronger then fentanyl, and that have never been approved for human consumption. (Identified substances include carfentanil (100x stronger than fentanyl), and etonitaxene is (10x stronger than fentanyl), and isotonitazene (5x stronger than fentanyl.)

“Our regional neighbours of Peterborough Public Health, Leeds Grenville and Lanark District Health, and most recently Kingston Frontenac Lennox and Addington Public Health have also issued releases advising of increases in overdoses within their region.

“KFL&A reported a newer yellow/beige substance circulating, although opioid products continue to be in a range of colours, and continue to contain fentanyl, carfentanil, and benzodiazepines – increasing risk of overdose.”

While HPEPH has not seen a spike in overdoses in recent weeks, Oglaza notes individuals experiencing overdose do not always seek emergency medical care and as such overdoses are not always reported.

“If you use drugs, reduce your risk by not mixing drugs, try test amounts first, always have a naloxone kit on hand, and never use alone – even during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Oglaza. “It is important to have someone with you who can administer naloxone or call 911 in case of overdose. If you must use and you are alone, you can connect with the National Overdose Response Service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, by calling 1-888-688-6677 and someone will stay on the line with you.”

HPEPH has seen a upward trend in overdoses over the past year with an all-time spike reported in late 2020. The Chief Coroner’s Office has also released preliminary data related to overdose deaths during the pandemic.

“This report confirms a significant increase in overdose deaths since the onset of the pandemic. The province experienced a 60 per cent increase in overdose related deaths from 2019-2020, demonstrating the need for ongoing harm reduction supports and continued efforts to reduce stigma surrounding drug use and overdoses.”

In 2020, HPEC experienced 28 overdose deaths, a 75 per cent increase from the 16 overdose related deaths reported in 2019.

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