Fentanyl-laced drugs trend 'disturbing,' Kingston police say

The potent prescription drug Fentanyl is increasingly being mixed into illicit drugs without the knowledge of the user, leading to an increase in overdoses, Kingston police and the local street health centre are warning.

Naloxone used in Kingston more than 12 times this year to reverse effects of overdoses

Kingston police are warning that Fentanyl is being mixed with other drugs, without the user's knowledge. (CBC)

A "disturbing" trend of mixing the potent prescription drug Fentanyl into illicit drugs without the knowledge of the user is leading to a high number of overdoses in Kingston, local police and health workers are warning.

Justine McIsaac, an outreach worker at the Kingston Street Health Centre, said 12 people have reported using Naloxone kits, to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses, so far this year. 

Frontenac Paramedics also treated a man with Naloxone in Kingston on Saturday, but another man died hours before in a suspected overdose, according to Kingston police.

"I think that's really high and it's concerning at the same time, too," McIsaac said. "Most of them have reported overdosing on heroin but are testing positive for Fentanyl and had no idea that was the case, that Fentanyl came into play in the substances that they were using."

Kingston Police Const. Steven Koopman said a toxicology report is being done to see if the Saturday death was linked to Fentanyl use.

He said the death of another man in Kingston earlier this year appeared to be due to an amphetamine overdose but that the coroner's office confirmed he also had Fentanyl in his system. 

'Very dangerous'

Fentanyl can be 100 times more potent than morphine, meaning a few micrograms can be fatal if someone doesn't know it's mixed in to their usual, expected dose, Koopman said. 

"It's quite disturbing and because of the fact that it's obviously uncontrolled and unregulated, it makes it very dangerous," he said.

Police are not sure why dealers are mixing Fentanyl into other drugs, but Koopman said it may be an issue of access.

It's quite disturbing and because of the fact that it's obviously uncontrolled and unregulated, it makes it very dangerous.- Kingston Const. Steven Koopman

"Fentanyl can be obtained sometimes more easily than heroin. You find someone that gets a prescribed amount for it and then, of course, they can sell it off to illicit dealers who want to use it," he said.

Rob Boyd, the head of the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, which runs harm reduction programs for drug users, said he hasn't heard reports of clients in Ottawa overdosing due to Fentanyl unknowingly mixed into their drugs.

Still, he said the emergence of powdered Fentanyl in Ottawa is a cause of concern, as it can easily be mixed with other substances.

Health Canada revises Naloxone status

Up until the end of March, Naloxone was only available with a prescription. On March 22 — after consultations on making Naloxone more widely available to curb the "growing number of opioid overdoses and deaths occurring across Canada" — Health Canada created an exception on the prescription drug list to allow it "when indicated for emergency use for opioid overdose outside hospital settings."

​The Kingston Street Health Centre, as well as other community-based programs, such as Ottawa Public Health, provide Naloxone kits and offer training on how to administer the overdose antidote. 

Ottawa Public Health said clients have reported that more than 60 overdoses have been reversed with the use of Naloxone over the past four years.

Koopman emphasized that Naloxone only temporarily counters the effects of an opioid overdose, and encouraged those in an overdose situation to call 911.

A private member's bill up for second reading later this month proposes amnesty to those who report overdoses from being charged with drug possession. The "Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act" is meant to lift the fear of prosecution during an overdose situation.

Koopman said that while there is not currently an exemption, police do not prioritize drug charges in an overdose situation.

"The officer's number one priority is obviously the preservation of life. So that would be first and foremost. Right now there is no guarantee in relation to it. We would treat it on a case-by-case basis," he said.