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'Toxic drug supply is killing our relatives': Animal tranquillizer found in overdose death reports in Winnipeg

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An animal tranquillizer is making its way into Winnipeg’s street drug supply.

Xylazine - also known as zombie drug - has been found in toxicology reports of three people who have died of an overdose.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Manitoba says three people who died of an overdose, two in August and one in October, had xylazine in their toxicology report.

Davey Cole, the coordinator of Sunshine House’s Mobile Overdose Prevention Site, estimates most street drugs in Winnipeg are cut with other substances.

“The toxic drug supply is killing our relatives and our kin,” they said.

Cole says contacts in other parts of the country had told them about xylazine getting in drug supplies, such as opioids.

Cole says they are "trying to get as much information about it as possible within our community, word of mouth, and also from Vancouver to really learn how to tackle this. I'm assuming we're going to be seeing more of it."

Shared Health does not have data specific to xylazine - but can say in general it’s seen 1,530 instances of substance misuse, 915 instances of overdose ingestion, and 609 instances of substance withdrawal since September.

Cory Guest, the public education coordinator with the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, says the level of toxicity and unregulated drug ingredients is something WFPS hasn't ever seen.

"What we know through outside agencies and through provincial testing that (xylazine) is here,” Guest said.” So it’s fair to say that the acuity that we're seeing with our patients is likely going to increase with this drug."

He also says they are seeing more resistance to naloxone than ever before.

Xylazine has no treatment.

“It's really the most acute central nerve system depressing drug that are out there. So your airway is going to be compromised, your level of consciousness will be compromised. There are a lot of really scary things that can happen to these folks."

On Monday, Sunshine House began training staff on a new drug-testing device that can test substances.

“It’s got like a laser in it and judges or tests the chemical compound in the drug,” Cole said.

Cole is hopeful this will help people understand what is in the substances people before using them.

"Drugs can be something that folks use thinking they're going to have a certain feeling, and, as we know with the toxic drug supply, that's not always a for sure thing." 

A prepared statement from the Province of Manitoba says it acknowledges the increasing presence of xylazine in the province and across Canada.

"Every life lost to substance use is tragic and devastating to Manitobans and we must continue to offer supports for Manitobans," it said.

The province says it will continue to strengthen care for people who have substance use and addictions challenges, which it says includes prevention, early intervention and harm reduction, treatment and long term recovery.

The WFPS is asking anyone who thinks they might be witnessing someone experiencing an overdose to call emergency services immediately.

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