Overdose deaths spike in downtown Toronto, prompting public warning by police

Toronto police have issued a public safety warning about a batch of dangerous opioids they believe are being sold in the downtown core after seven people died from drug overdoses over the past 12 days.

All the deaths occurred in neighbourhoods to the west of the downtown core

Toronto police believe fentanyl or carfentanyl could be responsible for the deaths of seven people in the downtown core. (CBC)

Toronto police have issued a public safety warning about dangerous opioids they believe are being sold in the downtown core after seven people died from overdoses over the past 12 days.

Police have been called to a number of overdoses since Aug. 2, Const. David Hopkinson told CBC Toronto on Tuesday evening, noting the seven deaths, all occurring in 14 Division — which covers the space from Dupont Street south to Lake Ontario, and Spadina Avenue in the east to Dufferin Street in the west.

"If we spoke about seven people dying throughout the city, it would be alarming," said Const. David Hopkinson. "We are talking about one division."

Police said the deaths are due to fentanyl or carfentanyl. They say the two synthetic opioids are either being used in higher quantities or have contaminated other street drugs.

Hopkinson said investigators at 14 Division asked the police service to issue the public warning.

"Fentanyl and carfentanyl are very dangerous drugs in their own right," he said. "It takes a very small amount of fentanyl to kill someone and carfentanyl is 100 times more powerful."

The Toronto Police say seven people have overdosed and died this month -- likely due to a bad batch of opioids being sold downtown. We speak with a harm reduction worker about what's going on and how the community is responding. 5:40

Hopkinson also said the coroner has expedited blood testing of the seven people who died to try to determine the cause.

Data from Toronto Public Health show that 303 people died in 2017 due to opioid-related causes, up from 186 in 2016.

The City of Toronto developed an overdose action plan in March 2017 that includes supporting supervised consumption sites where people can use drugs under the supervision of health-care professionals.

But the future of these sites is in doubt since the election of Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government.

Ontario's Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care announced last week it would not approve funding for any new overdose prevention sites while the minister evaluates their efficacy.