Fentanyl suspected in 2 more Winnipeg deaths, 3rd person in critical condition

Two more people have died of suspected fentanyl overdoses in Winnipeg, and a third person is in critical condition in hospital following an overdose.

Overdose deaths occurred at Exchange District hotel, Richmond West home, police say

Police were called to a home on Kinlock Lane just before 9 p.m. Sunday and were still at the scene Monday. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Two more people have died of suspected fentanyl overdoses in Winnipeg, and a third person is in critical condition in hospital following an overdose.

Emergency crews were first called to Mariaggi's Hotel on McDermot Avenue, in the Exchange District, on Sunday afternoon. A man in his 30s was found dead by hotel staff, police said, adding that paraphernalia was also found.

And just before 9 p.m., crews were called to a home on Kinlock Lane, near Keslar Road, in the city's Richmond West neighbourhood. Two men, age 22 and 21, were found in that home.

Both were rushed to hospital in critical condition and the 22-year-old later died. The 21-year-old remains in critical condition, police said.

Police spokesman Const. Jason Michalyshen said there were other people in the house who were taken out and assessed for their safety.

Although testing must still be done at a lab to confirm the type of drug involved in the deaths, fentanyl is strongly believed to be responsible, said Michalyshen.

"Based on what was seized and located in the home, all arrows are pointing in that direction," he said.

And in light of the spate of recent similar cases, "it's clear what we're dealing with — the epidemic, essentially, that we're seeing in our community," he said.

5 deaths in past month

The latest overdoses come on the heels of five deaths in the past month.

A man and two women were found dead in a home in the city's Inkster Gardens area last week. And last month, two men were found dead in a car in the North End.

Lab results are pending in those cases, but police have pointed to fentanyl as the likely cause.

Officials with the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg union have declared it a crisis, saying their paramedics are seeing overdoses on a daily basis in all areas of the city and across all socio-economic backgrounds.

The UFFW has launched a public awareness campaign with commercials and billboards, urging the public to talk to family and friends about the dangers "before tragedy strikes home." 

Recent statistics from Manitoba's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner show the number of deaths linked to fentanyl has nearly doubled in the last two years.

"It's frightening for us to even imagine that there are individuals that are willing to take that risk," said Michalyshen.

"Each and every one of these instances should raise the eyebrows of every single Winnipegger, every Manitoban, that this is a problem that we need to deal with — not just law enforcement but government officials and our partners in the community — so that we're not standing before you on a fairly regular basis talking about these types of fatalities.

"These deaths come with families grieving in a way I can't imagine. We don't want to see anyone go through this type of trauma and deal with something that's so preventable."

'It can kill you'

Like the UFFW campaign message, Michalyshen stressed the importance of warning family and friends about the current perils of trying drugs. There's no way to know if fentanyl is in other street drugs and only a small amount can kill.

Dealers are cutting common illicit drugs such as cocaine, meth and OxyContin with the cheaper fentanyl, which can't be detected through smell or taste, Michalyshen said.

"Regardless of what your drug of choice is, if [fentanyl is] contained within and you don't know it, it can kill you. Bottom line," he said.

Michalyshen said dealers "aren't concerned about the safety and the well-being of their customers."

"This is about the almighty dollar. And it's all of us in the community that are left picking up the pieces."

'Talk to them'

While police will explore charges in the latest cases, that's not the most important issue right now, Michalyshen said.

The biggest concern is "what is going on in our community? Why are we talking about this day in and day out, week after week?" he said.

"We all want answers and we all want this dynamic to change for the better, but the reality is it's going to take time."

And to combat it, everyone needs to make sure their loved ones aren't taking risks that have led to immense grief for the families of seven people in recent weeks, he said.

"Talk to them," Michalyshen urged. "Talk to them."