Manitoba

Drug possibly laced with fentanyl causing overdoses in Kenora, Ont.

A new drug is circulating the streets of Kenora, Ont. and now first responders are starting to see more people overdosing from it, including one man who was declared dead upon arrival after he was found unconscious and not breathing.

Local police warning the public about the drug called "Yellow Down" and "Purple Down"

Health professionals in Kenora, Ont. are starting to see an uptick in drug overdoses caused by a new drug called Yellow Down and Purple Down. (Amy Hadley/CBC)

A new drug is circulating the streets of Kenora, Ont., and now first responders are starting to see more people overdosing from it, including one man who was declared dead upon arrival after he was found unconscious and not breathing.

Local police in the northwestern Ontario city, located about 195 kilometres east of Winnipeg, are now warning the public about the drug called "Yellow Down" and "Purple Down."

"We've been, in a way, anticipating this for a while," said Dr. Johnny Grek, a physician who works with Kenora's homeless population and has been called to several overdoses in the past few days.

"We know that meth is in very short supply here... but for the opiate users, there's a real lack of their typical supply which, locally, is hydromorphone," Grek explained.

"People are turning — probably in desperation and withdrawal — to the stronger stuff, and that has come in the form of purple and yellow down."

The drug is heroin laced with fentanyl, an incredibly potent opioid that has contributed significantly to the 15,393 apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada between January 2016 and December 2019.

The rampant use of the drug also led to the creation of the federal Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, which allows possible drug users witnessing an overdose to call it in and avoid criminal penalties.

According to Grek, the purple and yellow down in Kenora contains "a super potent form" of fentanyl.

"It's worrying," he said.

Police issued a warning about the powerful substance last weekend in a news release after a person died on Sunday morning. 

The cause of death was still being investigated and police said an autopsy will be done in Toronto later this week.

Friday powwow spent celebrating and mourning

A powwow was organized for the people experiencing homelessness in Kenora on July 17, Grek said, but there was about as much celebrating as there was mourning.

"Not only for the lives that have been lost, but the ensuing and ongoing crisis that we see in the homeless population in Kenora," he said, adding that this situation disproportionately affects the homeless.

Grek said he is disturbed by the fact that the overdoses he is seeing are people who are educated about what the new drug they're putting into their bodies, he said. "But what is more worrying is that people are still choosing to use that drug, despite knowing the inherent risks."

Drug experts in Kenora are unsure of the exact cause of the supply shortage of drugs like meth and hydromorphone, said Grek. But they do know that purple and yellow down — and the fentanyl in them — are incredibly cheap.

"If you're in that desperate state... and you've got this presumed-fentanyl-laced product for a fraction of the price, in that desperate state you probably will reach for that," he said.

The City of Kenora has a disproportionate homeless and drug user population compared to the available resources that may be required to respond to a serious drug epidemic, said Grek.

More money would have to be put into outreach services, relationship-building and community engagement and treatment in order to respond effectively, he added.

With files from Ismaila Alfa

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