Manitoba authorities warn about rising risk of fentanyl
Published Wednesday, September 9, 2015 5:45PM CST Last Updated Wednesday, September 9, 2015 6:01PM CST
Authorities in Manitoba have issued a warning about fentanyl and the deadly consequences of abusing the drug.
On Wednesday, RCMP and Winnipeg police teamed up with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority to get the message out.
Their concern: fatal overdoses becoming more common in Manitoba.
Jessie Kolb was a 24-year-old who enjoyed fishing and weightlifting; but his life was cut short when he died of a fentanyl overdose last July.
His parents, John Kolb and Arlene Last-Kolb, aren't sure their son knew he was taking the powerful painkiller, which ultimately ended his life.
“It's been horrific,” said Arlene.
While all too familiar for the Kolb family, authorities and health officials want to get the message out to other Manitobans about the dangers of abusing the drug.
A recent spike in fentanyl-related overdoses across Canada, mainly in Alberta and BC, has the WRHA on alert. Dr. Joss Reimer, Medical Officer of Health with the WRHA, is concerned the trend will move east.
"What we've seen in the west is that numbers are increasing and we're anticipating that it'll increase even more in Manitoba," said Dr. Reimer.
Last month, one person in Winnipeg died of a drug overdose from a mixture of cocaine and fentanyl. Two others received emergency medical treatment.
Fentanyl is used legally as a pain medication for cancer patients, but Chief Devon Clunis with the Winnipeg Police Service said illegal street drugs are more commonly being laced with fentanyl and that people may take it without even knowing.
"The key piece here is not so much the enforcement piece,” said Clunis. “It's about the message to anyone in the community—those in the vulnerable community who might be using and those who might think they're just taking something recreationally for fun—to realize there's a significant risk here."
It's not only a city problem; RCMP Assistant Commissioner Kevin Brosseau said officers in Manitoba have made fentanyl busts in small, remote communities.
"The RCMP has observed a heightened presence of fentanyl on the illicit market and is taking enforcement measures to ensure that Canadians are safe,” said Brosseau.
The Kolb family wants to see police make more arrests and hold people accountable for mixing fentanyl with other drugs.
"Are we going to stop drugs? Probably not. But to put poison in something and to make it something that they don't even know what they're taking, that's not right," said Arlene.
The Kolbs didn't know much about fentanyl before their son's death and are glad the authorities are getting the message out to other families before it's too late.
Dr. Reimer is hopeful the WRHA will make naloxone available to drug users in Manitoba free of charge before the end of 2015.
She said naloxone can reverse the effects of fentanyl and other opioids when an overdose is happening.