Montreal police are questioning whether the heroin taken by a 40-year-old man who was found unconscious downtown may have been laced with something more powerful.
Around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, a security guard working at the Bell Centre discovered two men passed out with syringes in their legs in the corridor that links the arena to Lucien-L'Allier Metro station, said Const. Benoit Boisselle.
The security guard called 911. When police arrived at the scene, they performed CPR on both men and managed to revive one of them, who is 32.
But the other, the 40-year-old, did not regain consciousness. Both were taken to hospital, and police say they fear for the life of the older victim.
Boisselle said the younger of the two men told investigators they had bought heroin somewhere downtown earlier in the day.
"Was the substance just heroin, or was there something else in that liquid? The analysis of the drugs will allow us to conclude exactly what was taken."
Across the country, authorities have warned that fentanyl, a potent opioid and painkiller, is increasingly being cut into street drugs such as heroin, cocaine and crack.
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Paramedics used naloxone, the fast-acting drug used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, on both men, said Urgences-Santé spokesperson Steve Kouloumentas.
While Urgences-Santé wouldn't characterize the situation as a crisis, they are seeing more cases of fentanyl and even carfentanil, an opioid 100 times more toxic than fentanyl, in Montreal, Kouloumentas said.
First responders with Urgences-Santé have been carrying naloxone since 2012.
Pharmacies to be stocked with naloxone
The Quebec government announced Wednesday that naloxone will soon be free and accessible in pharmacies across the province in an effort to prevent a full-blown fentanyl crisis, similar to the situation in Vancouver.
The number of drug overdoses and deaths related to fentanyl has spiked in Montreal over the last year.
Dr. Carole Morissette, the doctor in charge of the response to the fentanyl crisis with Montreal Public Health, recently called fentanyl's growing presence in the city a "public health emergency."
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre has said he is in favour of equipping more first responders with naloxone. Under the province's new plan, police officers and firefighters, like their counterparts in other provinces, will be authorized to carry naloxone kits.
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Treating addiction is key, doctor says
Dr. Marie-Ève Morin, who works with people with addictions, praised the province's move to make naloxone more widely available, pointing out that opioid addiction had been an issue long before fentanyl started to dominate the conversation.
She said while first responders should be equipped with naloxone kits, drug users should as well since they are, technically, the first people at the scene of an overdose.
But Morin said that absent from this dialogue is the idea of making treatment for people who are addicted to drugs more widely accessible. She has found that many addicts want to stop, but that getting clean is easier said than done and is often physically painful.
Methadone and suboxone are two drugs prescribed to help wean addicts off illicit drugs, but access to those drugs is limited. She wants more doctors and medical students to be educated about the impact they can have.
"We're talking about intervening in emergency situations, but if we treated these people, there would be fewer overdoses," she said.