The city of Ottawa and overdose prevention partners are warning residents of an increase in suspected overdose-related deaths.

Ottawa police and paramedics responded to at least 22 calls in the last week about suspected overdoses, including five cases where the individual died.

Rob Boyd, the Oasis Program director at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre says this is not just a downtown problem.

"I think it’s important to keep in mind that this is a citywide problem, it’s not just something that’s happening in the downtown core," he told CTV News Ottawa. "We do know that there was a significant increase in the number of overdose deaths for people who are homeless in Ontario over the last couple of years but there continues to be a high number of people who are living in private dwellings who are overdosing."

Wendy Muckle, co-founder and CEO Ottawa Inner City Health, says the issue is likely linked to the local drug supply.

"This typically is attributed just to the drug supply. As I’m sure you understand, this is an illicit drug supply that’s being produced probably locally and the quality of the drugs is not great, in that the concentration is probably too high," she says. "It appears that it’s illicit fentanyl which is the culprit and it seems to be in everything."

Boyd says the situation requires a broad change in thinking.

"We need to look at the regulatory framework that we’re doing this under, we need to advance the decriminalization strategies within the federal government, we have to look at an increased investment in harm reduction and treatment, we have to look at novel types of treatment, and then we have to invest in anti-stigma campaigns across the board," he said.

The Ottawa Overdose Prevention and Response Task Force is reminding people who use drugs to take precautions.

  • Never use alone – If you overdose when you are alone there will be no one there to help you. If you are using with someone else, don’t use at the same time.
  • Don’t mix drugs – Mixing with other drugs puts you at a higher risk of overdose.
  • Go slow – The quality of illicit drugs is unpredictable. Fentanyl can be cut (mixed) into both opioid and non-opioid drugs like cocaine, heroin, crack, or pills made to look like other prescriptions (like ‘oxycodone’) or other pills including ecstasy/MDMA. Anything can be cut with Fentanyl or Carfentanil.
  • Carry naloxone – Naloxone is a medication that can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Naloxone kits are available for free in Ontario. Please visit StopOverdoseOttawa.ca to find out how to get a naloxone kit.
  • Know your tolerance – Your risk of overdose increases if you are a new user or haven't used in more than three days.
  • If you choose to use – Consider visiting one of the four Supervised Consumption and Treatment Services (CTS) locations in Ottawa.
  • Supervised Consumption and Treatment Services
  • If you use alone – Tell someone before you use. Have a safety plan, leave the door unlocked and have someone come check on you. You can also call the National Overdose Prevention Line at 1-888-688-NORS (6677) or connect with an anonymous virtual harm reduction supporter via the Brave App.

Residents are also encouraged to know the signs of an opioid overdose.

  • Breathing will be slow or absent
  • Lips and nails are blue
  • Person is not moving
  • Person may be choking
  • Person may make gurgling or snoring sounds
  • Person can’t be woken up
  • Skin feels cold and clammy
  • Pupils are tiny (also known as pinpoint)

If you suspect someone is having an overdose, call 9-1-1 immediately. An overdose is always a medical emergency. There are also limited legal protections available for drug users and bystanders who call emergency services during an overdose.

The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act protects people who are experiencing an overdose or who are with a person experiencing an overdose from:

Drug possession charges under section 4(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and breach of conditions regarding simple possession of drugs in:

  • pre-trial release
  • probation orders
  • conditional sentences
  • parole