3 people dead from suspected fentanyl overdoses at Winnipeg home
Neighbour says he saw several police officers enter home wearing protective masks
Three people are dead from suspected fentanyl overdoses in a home in north Winnipeg.
"This is a tragic situation," said Winnipeg police spokesman Const. Rob Carver.
Police say they were called to check on someone in the home on Petriw Bay, in the Inkster Gardens neighbourhood, just after 12 a.m. Wednesday.
After seeing an unresponsive man inside, they forced their way in and discovered three bodies — the man and two women. They also found a white powder and drug paraphernalia.
Carver said the powder must be tested, but the suspicion is it's fentanyl.
"And we're taking all of the precautions we are because of that suspicion," he said, noting the police service's clandestine lab unit was involved in the investigation.
"The drug is incredibly toxic. Almost invisible amounts would be enough to be toxic."
However, he added, it will take weeks to get confirmation of what exactly the powder is, because the labs that do the testing are backed up with work from police forces across the country.
"We get in line and we wait for the results," Carver said.
The three victims, all under 40, were the only people in the home, he noted, adding that it appears they died a while before police found them, "but I don't know how long."
A neighbour told CBC News he saw several police officers enter the home wearing protective masks over their mouths and noses. He said police told him "something bad happened inside."
The man who lived in the home had a reputation of being friendly, neighbours said, and did yard work for some residences nearby.
"He was a great guy. He does lawn care like I said. Knowing the fact of what happened is surprising," a neighbour told CBC.
Medical gloves and a dust mask could be seen on the driveway as the sun came up later in the morning. A couple of police cars also remained at the scene.
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"It's been an incredible dramatic increase. We've seen numbers significantly higher throughout the summer and now into the fall," he said. "This type of incident is now on everyone's minds. It's on the minds of the public, it's on the minds of all first responders.
"I don't think we've ever dealt with situations like this prior to the last year," he added, referencing the discovery of two dead men in a car last month.
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Police are still waiting for toxicology results to confirm the cause of those deaths, but are wasting no time in repeating their messages to the public to be extremely aware of the dangers of opioid narcotics.
Fentanyl is about 100 times more potent than morphine, while carfentanil is 10,000 times stronger than morphine.
"I don't see how this [surge in opioid use] couldn't be a risk for the general public," Carver said, noting a case in October, when a nine-month-old boy became critically ill after coming into contact with carfentanil.
He was rushed to hospital and has since been upgraded to stable condition. The boy's parents have been charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life, child neglect, drug possession and trafficking offences.
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Alex Forrest, head of the United Fire Fighters union in Winnipeg, calls the opioid situation in the city a crisis.
"Where before a paramedic would go to one or two overdoses a year, now we're seeing firefighter-paramedics attending to overdoses every single day," he said Wednesday.
"Our guys and girls are going out to these calls and going to these events, and sometimes we have two or three individuals that we're reviving that are on the verge of cardiac arrest because of the fentanyl use."
Forrest, whose union is planning to launch a public awareness campaign this week, said fentanyl and carfentanil are not just inner-city drugs.
The deaths on Wednesday occurred in a suburban area of single-family homes.
"We are seeing this in all areas of the city."
The prevalence and danger of the drugs is "changing the landscape of how we work," Carver said.
"It's just something we're going to have to adapt to and we are working very hard to do that."
The police service is creating new protocols and training "to enhance the safety of our officers and first responders going in" to situations where fentanyl or carfentanil is suspected, he added.
With files from The Canadian Press