City urging NYE partygoers to pick up overdose kits

The City of Ottawa is urging partygoers who use drugs recreationally to carry naloxone kits with them on New Years Eve to prevent fentanyl-related deaths.

'The smallest amount of this drug can kill you,' warns health board chair

Naloxone kits that can be picked up for free at pharmacies across Ottawa to treat a fentanyl overdose. (Marc-André Cossette/CBC News)

Ottawa health officials are urging partygoers who recreationally use drugs to carry naloxone kits with them on New Year's Eve to prevent fentanyl deaths.

The injectable antidote is available at pharmacies and can reverse the effects of an overdose.

The warning comes two weeks after a major drug bust in Orléans where RCMP seized 19 grams of the deadly drug furanylfentanyl — enough to kill tens of thousands of people.

We don't want anyone to lose their lives.- Shad Qadri, chair of the Ottawa Board of Health

"We don't want anyone to lose their lives," said Coun. Shad Qadri, the chair of the Ottawa Board of Health. 

Qadri posted online an open letter to residents warning them that fentanyl may be cut into drugs that people take on occasion at parties — cocaine, MDMA, Percocet, and oxycontin.

"The smallest amount of this drug can kill you," he wrote. "The obvious way to avoid an overdose is to not consume these drugs but unfortunately the sad realization is that there will be consumption."

Getting over the stigma

For the past two years, fentanyl has been involved in more overdose deaths in Ottawa than any other drug, according to Ottawa Public Health. Of the approximately 50 Ottawa residents who died of an overdose in 2015, 29 were due to opioids and in 14 deaths fentanyl was involved. 
Rob Boyd, director of the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, wants to see naloxone kits mandatory in bars, hotels, and restaurants. (Marc-André Cossette/CBC News)

"These deaths are preventable," said Rob Boyd, director of the OASIS program at Sandy Hill Community Health Centre. "We want to make sure that we don't have some of these tragic stories starting our New Year in 2017." 

Naloxone kits are small enough to tuck in your bag and bring to a party. They are also free. 

Boyd said there shouldn't be any stigma attached to picking one up at Ottawa pharmacies. You don't have to reveal if you're the one planning to use drugs. The only rule is that you have to say you are going somewhere where people may be at risk of an overdose. 

"We're hoping there's going to be a sufficient number of kits that go out, that somebody in the venue they are at is going to have naloxone," said Boyd.

He would eventually would like to see bars, hotels and other venues have these kits on-site in case of an emergency, just like defibrillators.

Paramedics gearing up

Paramedics are holding daily briefings about potential fentanyl overdoses as people ring in the New Year. The emergency responders have had to double their use of naloxone in 2016 due to the rise in fentanyl-related overdoses in the capital region.

And fear of more overdoses is heightened now that another drug — 100 times more powerful than fentanyl — may be in Ottawa. 

Carfentanil, an elephant tranquillizer, was detected in drugs sold on the streets of Waterloo and Toronto earlier this month. J.P Trotter, who speaks for Ottawa Paramedics, said first responders are being urged to wear masks in anticipation of this new drug.

"The biggest danger is that people don't know what they're taking," said Trottier. "They might consume what they think is the ordinary amount of illegal drugs that they are used to taking. But the carfentanil — just a few grains of it can kill you."

The city is also urging party goers not to use drugs alone and to call 911 immediately if they suspect someone has overdosed. 

Ottawa Paramedics are briefed before their shift starts about fentanyl overdoses. (CBC News)