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Winnipeggers being warned about deadly fentanyl-based drug

Winnipeg police are warning people about a common street drug called "down," after a 26-year-old man overdosed on the drug.

On Monday around 6:20 p.m., a cadet unit was waved down to a bus shelter in the Graham Avenue Transitway as a man was found unconscious and unresponsive.

After recognizing he was suffering from an overdose, two doses of naloxone were administered. After four doses total, the man regained consciousness and was taken to hospital in stable condition, and it's believed he will make a full recovery.

Police said "down" is a fentanyl-based drug and is "attributed to several overdose and sudden death events throughout the city."

The Winnipeg Police Service says down, also called purple down, is a mixture of fentanyl, carfentanyl, and often includes heroin. It can also be cut with other drugs.

"It's becoming another problem for sure," said Kevin Walker, the interim executive director of Bear Clan Patrol, who noted "down" is being seen more and more.

"We've run across it quite a bit. Obviously, the needles that we're picking up these days are, I'm sure, a combination of meth and fentanyl heroin in the down."

Data from the Medical Examiner's Office shows overdose deaths have jumped from 187 in 2018 to 409 in 2021. City data shows the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service has responded to 47 opioid calls in the first 10 days of 2023.

Those calls are coming from all over the city and are keeping organizations like St. Boniface Street Links busy.

"Our oasis team planned for a case load of 80 this year. We are managing well over 300 clients right now," said Marion Willis, the founder of Street Links.

She says she has seen an increase in people with drug addictions over the last seven years.

"We are relying on outdated recovery models that are no match for addiction at this level."

She said prevention, intervention, law enforcement and harm reduction will play a big role in slowing the trend. She hopes to see communities work together to find solutions before the situation gets even worse.

"Really, quite soul-destroying to be honest, working with some of these young people and families who simply cannot access care."

A spokesperson for Mental Health and Community Wellness Minister Sarah Guillemard said she was not available for an interview Tuesday.

In a prepared statement, the spokesperson said ensuring people have appropriate support is a top priority for the government.

"The recent provincial Speech from the Throne identified a commitment to a recovery-oriented system of addictions care to ensure treatment is available to people throughout the province, and this will include a significant investment in up to 1,000 new treatment spaces," the spokesperson said. 

In response to overdoses in the city, staff at select city-run facilities will now be able to administer naloxone.

"Opioids continue to be a significant public health concern and increasing access to naloxone will save lives," Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham said in a news release.

Staff who work at recreation and leisure centres, indoor pools, fitness centres, and libraries are now able to give naloxone through a nasal spray while waiting for emergency responders.

"City-run indoor arenas, and community centre facilities, which are not managed by the City, are not included in this initiative," the city said in a release.

Winnipeg police advise anyone who experiences or sees a drug overdose to call 911 right away.

"To reduce the risk of an overdose, never use drugs alone and always carry naloxone if opioids may be present," police said in a news release.

The city said free take-home naloxone kits can be picked up at specific distribution sites. Top Stories

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