Blue Line

Surge of weekend drug overdoses in Ottawa part of ongoing national crisis

July 10, 2023  By The Canadian Press

July 10, 2023, Ottawa, Ont. – Ottawa police confirmed Monday that nearly two dozen people suffered drug overdoses over the weekend in the country’s capital city.

The Ottawa Police Service said it responded to 19 drug-related overdoses on Saturday, and another three on Sunday morning.

Police said emergency responders and civilians administered naloxone, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses, in many of the cases.

The CEO of Ottawa Inner City Health, a harm reduction organization that operates supervised consumption sites, said he fears the spike could be connected to “some shift in the drug supply.”


Still, “it’s a bit too early to tell what’s going on,” Rob Boyd said.

He suggested the cause of the rise in overdoses could be associated with a group of new, inexperienced drug-users that are more susceptible to misuse.

“My worry is that this is people who are housed, who would not use supervised consumption services, who may not be aware of harm reduction services or what’s available to them to keep them safe,” said Boyd.

He said his group, which is part of an overdose prevention task force alongside Ottawa police, paramedics, emergency departments and public health officials, didn’t see the sudden uptick that police reported over the weekend.

Still, its workers responded to 12 overdoses this weekend alone. “It’s not a huge difference from what we might normally expect on a weekend.”

Boyd said harm reduction workers, who operate the city’s only 24/7 supervised injection site, often respond when they learn of overdoses that happen outside consumption sites.

He said some drug users have switched their consumption methods so they are smoking rather than injecting drugs.

No supervised smoking services are currently offered in Ottawa.

The most recent data from Ottawa Public Health show there were 117 emergency hospital visits due to opioid overdoses in May, the highest number since July 2020.

Last July saw some of the worst outcomes in recent years, with five people dying from suspected opioid overdoses in just one week, with 98 people hospitalized over the course of the month.

Health Canada data suggest there were an average of 20 fatal opioid overdoses a day across all provinces and territories in 2022.

Government data show that the use of all types of drugs resulted in about 18 hospitalizations a day during the same period in provinces and territories excluding Quebec.

A year ago, Health Canada established a $40-million fund “to help support the response to the overdose crisis” through a federal Substance Use and Addictions Program.

More than half of the funding went toward harm reduction and consumption treatment services in Ontario.

Neither police nor Ottawa Public Health said Monday if there had been any emergency hospital visits or deaths in connection with the weekend overdoses.

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