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Rash in Calgary overdoses linked to tainted drugs

CALGARY — A bad night in Calgary for overdoses as outreach workers helped save six lives within the first 90 minutes of their shift.

Chaz Smith, the president and CEO of BeTheChangeYYC, suspects they were given a tainted supply—caused by a number of factors.

“One gentleman, he started to nod and almost got hit by a train and fell right into it. Thankfully, he caught himself right at the ledge as the train was about to hit him,” said Smith.

Dr. Monty Ghosh, an addictions specialist, says there are a variety of factors that cause bad batches like this.

“A lot of the organized drug syndicates that were distributing fentanyl within our communities has also changed. They’ve been shut down by the police. So now we have different individuals who are in the arena of drug distribution,” said Ghosh.

And those drug makers — short on fentanyl as Chinese authorities crackdown on factories.

They’re turning to other substances, like benzodiazepines, anti-parasitic medications, and even laundry detergent.

Ghosh says we’re also seeing more carfentanyl — which is more potent than fentanyl.

Calgary saw 156 overdoses from non-pharmaceutical opioids in the first four months of 2021 — double of what we saw in the same time frame in 2020.

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It comes at a time when little is known about the future of Calgary’s supervised consumption site.

The province has said it will close the Safeworks site at the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre and open two sites elsewhere — but has been sparse on details, including when and where.

In a statement, a provincial spokesperson said they will be moving the services to partner organizations that already serve people struggling with addiction.

“Having them in the shelters would be crucial. But other sites need them as well. We know 70 per cent to even sometimes 80 per cent of the overdoses are happening in suburban communities. So, having a resource available for them would be very important as well,” said Ghosh.

Overdoses trend up in the summertime, but Ghosh says the loosening of restrictions could help.

“I’m hoping that people will be not using alone as much.”

Ghosh and Smith say you can save a life by getting a naloxone kit and learning how to use it.

“Understanding where the population comes from is another key piece here. A lot of these individuals do come from a place of trauma, they do come from a place of severe harm and hurt in the past,” said Ghosh. “They are very much victims of society, and they continue to be victims of the opioid crisis.”