London

Five men have died from overdoses in the last six days in London, Ont.

London, Ont. police and the local health unit are warning drug users about a powerful, deadly batch of drugs that is killing users at unprecedented rates in the region.

Officials say the people who are dying from overdoses are those not accessing supervised consumption sites

This is the spot where a man died on Thursday morning. Four others have died in the last six days, according to officials. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

London, Ont. police and the local health unit are warning drug users about a powerful, deadly batch of drugs that is killing users at unprecedented rates in the region. 

Officials say the people who are dying are those who are not accessing supervised drug consumption and treatment services, but instead are using alone or under the eye of dealers. 

In less than a week, five men have died of suspected drug overdoses in London. 

Two men died yesterday, and three more over the past weekend. Three of the deaths involved fentanyl. 

"We're seeing deaths and overdoses in one part of our drug-using population. As long as we have organized crime controlling the drug supply in our community, we will continue to see peaks and troughs in terms of the number of deaths and the number of people who are overdosing," said Dr. Chris Mackie, the region's medical officer of health. 

Weeks have gone by recently without a single fatal overdose. But now there's been a large spike, unlike anything officials have seen before. 

"We don't usually release information about overdose deaths," said London Police Chief John Pare. "But we are extremely concerned about this series of deaths and want to reinforce that people need to take precautions.

"It is truly alarming, so I am pleading with those who use drugs to be careful, and with family and friends of those who may use to talk to them about safety planning."

Police are not identifying those who have died from the suspected overdoses. The causes of death still have to be confirmed through toxicology tests. 

One man who died yesterday was found in a parking lot outside of St. Paul's Cathedral on Queens Avenue. He was in his late 30s, friends said. 

The deaths come amid a deepening drug crisis in the region which has seen a spike in fatal overdoses in the last week, including an inmate at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre and a teenager in nearby Woodstock, Ont. 

Naloxone kits available

Health officials are reminding people that naloxone kits are available for free from the Middlesex-London Health Unit and from local pharmacies. 

Naloxone helps to temporarily reverse the effects of opioid overdose. 

"It pains me having to keep talking about this ongoing tragedy. There are so many excellent things happening in this community and yet for some families, the social fabric is unraveling. Each of these men was someone's son," said Dr. Mackie. 

"Please seek help for yourself or your loved ones. There are options for treatment no matter where you are in your journey, from supervised consumption to suboxone." 

London's supervised drug consumption site, now known as a consumption and treatment site, is located at 186 King Street. 

Fentanyl seizures continue

In 2016, there were five seizures of fentanyl in London. In 2017, there were 37 seizures.

Last year, there were 75 seizures, and included fentanyl mixed with other drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine, Pare said.

On Thursday, police arrested twin brothers and seized more than $24,000 worth of drugs, including oxycodone, meth, hydromorphone and fentanyl, along with a Taser, firearms and ammunition.

Those who don't access services for drug users in London are isolated from help by drug dealers, Mackie said. 

"That's a deliberate tactic by organized crime to make sure people will not be able to get out of their addiction." 

'We need hope'

Those who work in agencies that help people living on London's streets say they will now have to support each other and the clients they serve.

They are still a human being, through whatever struggles they're facing.- Sonja Burke, Regional HIV/AIDS Connection

"The critical piece for us is that people have to have hope. They have to have hope that they matter, that people care, that their may be supports that they can reach out for when they're ready," said Sonja Burke, who runs the city's needle exchange program. 

"We can't forget that there's a human being that is struggling, that maybe doesn't have an outlet or a supportive place to go to share in their grieve, and when they see the staff in tears and when they experience the staff hugging them and acknowledging them and sharing stories of a person they both know who passed away, that cements the fact that through all of this, they are still a human being, through whatever struggles they're facing."

About the Author

Kate Dubinski

Reporter/Editor

Kate Dubinski is a radio and digital reporter with CBC News in London, Ont. You can email her at kate.dubinski@cbc.ca.

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