Ottawa Citizen

Alarm sounds after ‘surge’ in overdose cases

- SHAUNA McGINN and PAULA McCOOEY With files from Matthew Pearson

Hospital and public health officials sounded an alarm on Friday following a surge in overdose-related emergency visits this week.

Ottawa typically sees an average of three suspected overdose cases per day, according to Andrew Hendriks, manager of clinical services at Ottawa Public Health and chair of the Ottawa Overdose Prevention and Response Task Force, so on Thursday when officials were alerted that 15 potentiall­y lifethreat­ening overdose-related emergency room visits had occurred in the past 72 hours, they considered it a “surge.”

“We felt that was enough to notify the public that if people are taking opioids — or if they think they are taking opioids — there’s a risk of overdose, and that they should be thinking about naloxone … a medication that can reverse the effect of an opioid overdose,” Hendriks said.

He stressed overdoses are medical emergencie­s and to call paramedics even if naloxone is taken. “It buys time for paramedics to show up and it buys time for you to be transporte­d to an emergency room if you need to go.”

Naloxone is available over the counter at more than 80 pharmacies across the city. Informatio­n about fentanyl can be found on the city’s website.

Hendriks says it’s too early to tell which drugs the 15 people took or whether they had a connection. He said that would only be determined if there is a police investigat­ion.

The Ottawa Hospital reported five visits to the trauma centre at the Civic campus and two to the General campus, all suspected to involve fentanyl. Some patients required “high doses of naloxone.”

But shortly after this informatio­n was released, the task force upped the number of visits to 15, but did not specify if they were all related to fentanyl. No deaths had been reported. Hospitals have increased the supply of naloxone in emergency department­s in recent months, in anticipati­on of such surges of opioid-overdose cases.

“The effects of illicit opioids can last for hours while naloxone (dose) lasts only an hour,” said hospital spokeswoma­n Kate Eggins in a statement. “It is imperative that if a case of opioid overdose is suspected and naloxone is administer­ed, the patient should be transporte­d to an emergency department for further treatment and possible ongoing naloxone dosing.”

Hendriks says the task force, part of the Stop Overdose Ottawa campaign launched last year, is focused on increased communicat­ion with the city’s emergency services and the public, to let people know there are potentiall­y deadly illicit opioids in the city.

“We really just want to use this as an opportunit­y to tell people there’s dangers associated with counterfei­t pills. And if you are not getting your medication­s from pharmacist­s or from health-care providers, you are at risk for an overdose,” he said.

Ottawa paramedics spokesman Marc-Antoine Deschamps said he had been in contact with Ottawa hospital officials and is “monitoring the situation closely.”

Officials encourage anyone who suspects or witnesses an overdose to immediatel­y call 911, even if naloxone has been provided. Signs and symptoms of an overdose can include slow breathing, blue lips and nails, choking or gurgling noises, or cold and clammy skin.

Rob Boyd, director of the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre’s Oasis program, said that his organizati­on had seen “indication­s of rising overdose rates in the city the past few weeks, but nothing could be pinned down.

“It was anecdotal within our community,” he said

“We certainly have the sense that something serious is going on … but delays in reporting methods hamper any actions we can take.”

Boyd said that groups like his could take specific measures if the sources and specific areas of the problems are identified.

“We can do things like target pharmacies to ensure naloxone is available, talk to clients, that sort of thing.”

Boyd said he remains concerned about the fentanyl issue becoming more severe. “I said it this spring and I’ll say it again, I have a really bad feeling about this summer.”

The heightened concerns came on the same day Ontario Progressiv­e Conservati­ve Leader Patrick Brown and Nepean-Carleton MPP Lisa MacLeod met with concerned parents and held a press event in Barrhaven to call attention to what they called “the growing opioid and fentanyl crisis in Ontario.”

The pair was joined by Sean O’Leary, a Kanata father who wrote an emotional open letter in February about his 16-year-old daughter’s drug addiction. The letter was shared widely across social and mainstream media, and prompted the creation of a parent-led informatio­n and support network.

MacLeod said she’s called on the province to create a new interminis­terial committee to bring together officials from several department­s, including education, children and youth services, and health. “The government has got to do this,” she said.

The PCs have also indicated their interest in stiffer penalties for those caught in possession of a pill press, which can be used to turn raw drugs such as fentanyl into counterfei­t tablets.

 ??  ?? Andrew Hendriks
Andrew Hendriks

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