'It's a wake-up call,' Windsor loses 4 to suspected drug overdose in 24 hours

Four people died of a suspected drug overdose in the span of 24 hours and police are investigating. Meanwhile, the health unit advocates for an overdose prevention site, saying it could have helped save lives.

Windsor-Essex County Health Unit advocates for an overdose prevention site in the city

In the span of 24 hours this past weekend, four people died of a suspected drug overdose in Windsor. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Windsor lost four people to a potential drug overdose in the span of 24 hours between Saturday and Sunday, according to Windsor police.

They are being investigated by police as sudden deaths, but they say it's too early to confirm a cause of death.

"There is a possibility that each case involved the use of illicit drugs while the subject was in a private place," police say in a news release.

Staff Sgt. Karel DeGraaf said they're believed to be fentanyl-related deaths.

According to the Windsor Regional Hospital, there were 31 emergency department visits from Friday to Monday for substance abuse and intoxication.

Brandon Bailey says talks around having to find the right location for an Overdose Prevention Site are only creating more barriers. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

'Wake up call'

Acting medical officer of health with Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, Dr. Wajid Ahmed, said this is a tragic event.

"It's a wake up call for all of us in the community, that we need to come together and we need to start taking some concrete actions to prevent these deaths," he said.

One concrete action the community can take is to have overdose prevention sites, according to Ahmed, which would have helped to prevent the deaths that happened this past weekend.

He said the health unit has advocated for a site in the past. They are also in the midst of a community consultation for a supervised injection site in the city.

Ontario's actions

According to Marilou Gagnon, president of the Harm Reduction Nurses Association, Ontario is not doing nearly enough to handle what she calls a "public health emergency."

"If it was any other kind of public health emergency authorities would have spoken up and stepped up by now," she said. "And the reason they're not doing that is because they've been clearly opposed to any harm reduction measures."

The overdose bulletin updated by Windsor-Essex County Health Unit keeps track of numbers related to emergency department visits. (

She said it's not that complicated to open an Overdose Prevention Site, and that volunteers are able to open one within a week. In her understanding, the city should have had one open by now, but there have been barriers provincially in setting one up.

Brandon Bailey from the Windsor Overdose Prevention Society would agree.

"It's all just red tape, red tape, red tape. The more barriers we create, the more people are dying."

Last month, Ontario announced its revised drug strategy, which includes rebranding supervised consumption sites as consumption and treatment services sites.

While the government said they plan on spending $30 million to fund programs, they are capping the number of sites at 21. Currently there are 19 in operation.

Marilou Gagnon says it's in her understanding that Windsor should have had an overdose prevention site by now. (Stu Mills/CBC)

CBC News reached out to Christine Elliott, Ontario's minister of health and long-term care on Monday for comment, but she was not available for an interview.

In a statement sent by her press secretary, it says the government takes the ongoing opioid crisis "very seriously."

"The new Consumption and Treatment Services (CTS) model will continue to save lives by helping to prevent and reverse overdoses," the statement reads.

Long-term solution

However, Ahmed said in the long-term, solutions need to go beyond those sites.

One of the tools the health unit launched is an overdose bulletin, where they keep track of numbers such as drug-related emergency department visits and EMS dispatches for overdoses.

Stephanie Oneschuk is disappointed in the response so far from police and other authority figures in the city. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

It's also where they post alerts if there may be a bad batch of drugs in circulation.

For example, in April 11 this year, an alert was posted warning of "circulation of 'purple heroin' and 'purple meth' according to community partners."

So far there haven't been any alerts from police about there being drugs that could be contaminated.

"They're not reacting, that's part of the problem. These are community leaders," said Stephanie Oneschuk, a downtown resident who is disappointed with the response so far from police, paramedics and the city.

"People complain about problems, but then when something like this happens, they're not rushing out to fix anything, they're not offering solutions."

With files from Floriane Bonneville, Chris Ensing and Rose St-Pierre