Toronto

Spate of overdoses may be linked to fentanyl-laced crack cocaine, harm reduction workers warn

Harm reduction workers in Toronto's east end are warning of the possibility that a supply of crack cocaine may be laced with fentanyl.

At least seven overdoses have occurred in the past week, Rhiannon Thomas says

Harm reduction workers in Toronto believe crack cocaine is being laced with fentanyl. (Ben Nelms/Reuters)

Harm reduction workers in Toronto's east end are warning of the possibility that a supply of crack cocaine may be laced with fentanyl.

Rhiannon Thomas, a coordinator at the South Riverdale Community Health Centre, told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Tuesday she believes at least seven overdoses have occurred in the past week due to people unknowingly ingesting the opioid while smoking crack.

A spokesperson for Toronto Public Health could not confirm the overdoses, but says more information will be available in the coming week.

Thomas, who heard this information through the "street grapevine" said she is "hesitant to say this is happening regularly."

"If there was fentanyl in cocaine in this city, hundreds of thousands of people would be dropping everyday," she said.

She was able to confirm through hospital discharge reports that fentanyl was found in the system of a person who said they were smoking crack cocaine and no other drugs.

Rhiannon Thomas is the coordinator of the COUNTERfit harm reduction program at the South Riverdale Community Health Centre. (CBC)

"The word needs to get out very quickly. Two weeks or three weeks later is too late," Thomas warned.

Health Canada's Drug Analysis Service, which tests drugs apprehended by the Canada Border Services Agency, the Correctional Service of Canada and police forces across the country, reported in November 2017 that 1.8 per cent of samples of cocaine seized so far that year had tested positive for fentanyl. That's up from 0.01 per cent in 2012.

Thomas said she suspects the fentanyl accidentally ended up in the crack cocaine this past week. 

"It doesn't make sense from a business perspective to be putting a dangerous opioid in a stimulant," she said.

Her advice to drug users is to get a naloxone kit. She says the opioid antidote is "very easy to use."

Naloxone is a drug that reverses the effects of an overdose. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

"Also talk about it," she added. "Try not to use by yourself if you can, try to call someone if you can't."

Safe injection sites don't allow smoking

A spokesperson for Toronto Public Health told CBC Toronto that the city is "required to follow provincial legislation, which prohibits smoking indoors," and therefore cannot allow crack cocaine users to smoke at overdose prevention sites. 

A safe injection site in Moss Park, which operates outside the legal framework, is the only site in the city that has a smoking tent. 

At the end of the month, a federally sanctioned safe drug consumption site in Lethbridge, Alta., will open. It will allow four modes of consumption, including inhalation or smoking.

"We know that all four forms of consumption are occurring in the city, so you have to deal with all of them,"  Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman told CBC News in January.

Thomas said the only way to make sure supplies are kept safe is to decriminalize illicit drugs.

"People are using drugs whether you like it or not," she said.

She said a better way to test drugs should be implemented across the city.

With files from Metro Morning, Adam Miller, Nicole Ireland, Lucie Edwardson

now