In case you haven’t heard, there’s an opioid crisis. It’s not unusual to get an alert from Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health and the Wellington Guelph Drug Strategy about drug poisonings in the area, we’ve gotten more than a few this year already, but multiple poisonings in an hour? That is something that’s definitely worthy of a health alert!
According to Public Health, there were six suspected drug poisonings in Guelph on Friday morning. Fortunately, none of those events resulted in death, but nearly all of them involved fentanyl, and there was at least one reported case of red fentanyl, which is known to be especially toxic.
Public Health reminds substance users to carry naloxone with them, to never use alone, and to use the Consumption and Treatment Services Site (CTS) supervised by health professionals at Guelph’s Community Health Centre. It’s open Monday to Sunday 9 am to 5 pm.
Six poisonings in an hour is almost definitely a new record. Just over two months ago, there were five drug poisonings in one night, including a death, and they were all tied to red, green and yellow-coloured fentanyl. Then, on March 31, a health alert was sent out warning the public that there were 31 suspected poisonings over a two week period, including two deaths. The culprit in many of the situations here were also the many colours of fentanyl.
Despite the concerning nature of these alerts, a recent report at the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Board of Health noted that the rate of emergency room visits from opioid-related causes has stabilized, and are below the provincial average. Still, like the rest of Ontario, the number of opioid-related fatalities continues to increase with 90 per cent of the deaths in 2021 linked back to fentanyl and its analogues.
A study released earlier this year from Public Health Ontario shows that opioid deaths nearly doubled in Ontario after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic; there were 1,017 deaths between March and December in 2019 compared to 1,808 between March and December 2020.
“There are a multitude of reasons for this rapid acceleration in opioid-related deaths, including the increasing unpredictability of the unregulated drug supply, reduced access to healthcare services, limited access to community based-programs that support people who use drugs, and increased social isolation, which led to more people using drugs alone,” the report said.
Another factor in drug poisoning cases is the mixing of drugs. “We can see that there is also the mixture and combination of many stimulants and depressants – cocaine, methamphetamines, benzodiazepines, and alcohol included – as a direct contributor to these deaths,” explained Michael Whyte, Health Promotion Specialist and Health Analytic of Public Health at this month’s Board of Health meeting.
Between August 2018 and March 2022, 903 substance-related have been inputed into the FAST Overdose Alert Platform, a program started by WDG Public Health to collect real-time information about substance-related overdoses so that patterns and trends can be found and studied. During the same time period, 23 Health Alerts have been shared with the public.