Ottawa

Naloxone increasingly ineffective against drug combos

Workers on the front lines of Ottawa's opioid crisis say the life-saving antidote naloxone is increasingly ineffective because drug users are showing up with lethal and often unknown combinations of dangerous narcotics in their systems.

At least 3 drug-related deaths in Ottawa over last week

Ottawa Inner City Health is seeing an increasing number of drug combinations that result in unpredictable reactions. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Workers on the front lines of Ottawa's opioid crisis say the life-saving antidote naloxone is increasingly ineffective because drug users are showing up with lethal and often unknown combinations of dangerous narcotics in their systems.

Wendy Muckle, executive director of Ottawa Inner City Health, said clients are turning up at the organization's supervised injection site on Murray Street thinking they've consumed an opioid, but it turns out to be something else. 

When staff administer naloxone, the antidote doesn't have the desired effect.

It's a very strange and confusing picture these days. It's hard to know what you're dealing with.- Wendy Muckle, Ottawa Inner City Health

"Increasingly, that's not working out that well for us because the drugs seem to have other things in them. We don't always — in fact we often don't know what they are. But it seems like the drugs are now showing up in very strange combinations, and as a result it causes really strange reactions," Muckle said. 

"So even if you follow the usual protocol and do the usual kinds of things, you may not get the result that you were hoping for."

Ottawa Inner City Health executive director Wendy Muckle said she's aware of at least three drug-related deaths in Ottawa over the last week, including one client who overdosed at the organization's Murray Street supervised injection site. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

3 deaths in last week

One client died in hospital after overdosing at the Murray Street site, Muckle said. 

She's aware of at least two other drug-related deaths in Ottawa in the past week, but said there were likely more.

"The point is that we have an extremely toxic drug supply … and Ottawa seems to be particularly affected by this," Muckle said. 

"It's a very strange and confusing picture these days. It's hard to know what you're dealing with."

Paramedics say naloxone only works to reverse the effects of opioid overdose, and are ineffective against drugs such as cocaine, speed or GHB. 

Marc-Antoine Deschamps with the Ottawa Paramedic Service says drug users can never really know what's in the street drugs they take. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

"Any drug can contain opioids, [and] the opposite is also true. Opioids can contain other drugs," said Marc-Antoine Deschamps, public information officer with the Ottawa Paramedic Service.

"It can contain caffeine, it can contain cocaine, speed ... [and] create an overdose that will not be responsive to naloxone." 

Both Ottawa Public Health and the Ottawa Overdose Prevention and Response Task Force remind residents that any drug can be cut with fentanyl.

Drug users are reminded not to take drugs alone, and to call 911 whenever naloxone is administered.

Marc-Antoine Deschamps, public information officer with the Ottawa Paramedic Service, says opioids bought on the street may contain other drugs for which naloxone is not an effective antidote. 0:33

About the Author

Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.