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Protecting against overdose: WFPS share safety tips as toxic opioid grips Winnipeg

Police are reminding folks what to do if they or someone around them is experiencing a drug overdose, as a deadly opioid continues to circulate through Winnipeg.

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) public education coordinator Cory Guest said a drug known as purple down, a form of heroin cut with fentanyl, is spreading throughout the city. It’s an opioid that has been on the streets for some time in different iterations, but this version is particularly toxic.

“We have heard of white down, beige down, brown down, pink down - there's lots of different colours, and I would say the lethality of this version of down is nothing that we've really ever seen,” he said in an interview with CTV Morning Live Winnipeg on Friday.

Data from the Medical Examiner's Office shows overdose deaths jumped from 187 in 2018 to 409 in 2021. Additionally, the WFPS responded to over 60 opioid calls so far in 2023, while naloxone has been administered to about 50 different patients.

Guest said this is owing to an unregulated toxic drug supply, meaning users aren’t able to safely dose themselves.

He said those using drugs should not do it alone, as they won’t be able to recognize the signs of an overdose in themselves quickly enough to call 911.

“We want people to recognize when you're sick. We want people to be able to access 911 very quickly,” he said.

“Time is muscle. Time is brain. These opioids that we're talking about are really an acute central nervous system depressing drug, so your respiratory system will be compromised very, very quickly, and you will stop breathing.”

Common signs of drug overdose include dilated pupils, dizziness, confusion, extreme drowsiness, choking, gurgling, snoring sounds and an inability to wake up.

He said if you suspect someone around you is experiencing opioid poisoning, administering naloxone can save their life until paramedics arrive.

“The naloxone comes along and kind of has a fist fight with that drug,” he explained. “It in theory should replace itself on that part of your brain, and should allow you to start breathing again. It doesn't save everybody and it's a short-acting medication, though.”

He said paramedics have reported having to use more naloxone on folks overdosing on purple down, which points to how lethal these drugs have become.

CPR can also go a long way to saving someone’s life, Guest added. If you don’t have first aid training, he said 911 dispatchers can walk you through the process until help arrives.

- With files from CTV's Rachel Lagacé and Decon McKendrick Top Stories

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