WINNIPEG -- Before COVID-19 made it to Winnipeg, meth was the drug of choice in Winnipeg. Now Marion Willis, executive director of St. Boniface Street Links says there’s a new one and it’s called ‘purple down.’

Willis said because borders are closed, it is harder for drug cartels to get meth into Canada, and recently there have been significant seizures made by RCMP and Winnipeg police.

“The crystal meth has pretty much dried up on the streets, there’s some out there but it's very very pricy, maybe $30-$50 a point from those who might have it,” Willis said. “For those who are generally living in poverty and are out there have moved to the next drug of choice which has become fentanyl and heroin essentially.”

“A very, very, very, dangerous brew.”

She said in recent weeks there are a few locations in St. Boniface where the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service has had to attend to two or three times a day to administer naloxone.

The WFPS has recently reported a significant increase in the number of patients needing naloxone to be administered. Naloxone is a medication given that blocks the effects of opioids like fentanyl.

In June 2019, 121 patients needed naloxone, compared to June 2020 where 316 patients needed the potentially life-saving drug.

CTV News could not confirm how many overdose deaths have been reported in Manitoba since March. The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority told CTV News that it doesn’t track the number of overdose deaths attributed to the drug purple down.

The Winnipeg Police Service told CTV News in a written statement that it is very much aware of purple down and has been for some time.

“It is an illicit drug that is a 10 to 1 ratio mixture of heroin to fentanyl and uses a cutting agent such as caffeine,” wrote Insp. Max Waddell of the Organized Crime Division.

Waddell said overdoses happen when the mixture contains too much fentanyl or the fentanyl does not mix properly and creates what's called a ‘hot spot’. He added it is difficult to determine the exact cause of death in an overdose situation because often there is more than one drug found within the body.

“The WPS has made some seizures, albeit not significant, in comparison to other illicit drugs,” his statement read in regards to purple down. “We will continue to employ our Illicit Drug Strategy that comprises three pillars of Enforcement, Intervention, and Education and attempt to disrupt the flow of any and all illicit drugs coming into our community.”

Willis said active substance users have reported to St. Boniface Street Links that purple down is going for $30 a point if the buyer is connected to someone, $40 if the buyer does not know someone who is selling.

She said because opioids are more expensive and do not last as long as meth, it has lead to an increase in robberies and theft in the St. Boniface area.

“We are seeing more of that, more property crime, more break and enters, more of those types of things trying to get money or get items that people can sell for money because they need more money now to support the opioid habit,” she said.

Willis says this recent change highlights the need for a national drug strategy, where the issue is treated as a public health crisis.

“We’re dealing with COVID, the drug epidemic didn’t go away. One is kind of playing on the other in strange ways and this isn’t going to get any better. This is costing people their lives,” she said.

While CTV News was on-site at Morberg House, a 12-bed transitional residence for men overcoming homelessness and addiction ran by St. Boniface Street Links, Willis tested a baggy of what was believed to be purple down for fentanyl. The test came back positive.

“The person who dropped off this little baggy is someone who lives outside and often is very fearful for his own safety and he felt he was doing his part by delivering this baggy to us,” Willis said.

The bag was disposed of safely.