Warning issued in Lethbridge amid spike in overdoses

By Lethbridge News Now (Aaron Mahoney)
February 26, 2018 - 3:24pm

LETHBRIDGE - Following a significant spike in overdose calls over the past weekend, Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services and the Lethbridge Police Service held a press conference on Monday to issue a warning to the public.

Police believe a particularly potent batch of drugs - likely carfentanil - is currently available on the street and say anyone using the drug needs to be aware and take precautions.

Dana Terry, LFEM Deputy Chief of Support Services, says on Friday, over a 24-hour period they responded to 16 overdose calls.

"Our staff saw a dramatic increase in the number of calls for drug overdoses. On Wednesday we had two calls for overdoses, Thursday we had none, and then on Friday we had 16 calls. That's far above any day that we've seen up until this point," Terry said, adding there were no fatalities as far as he was aware off.

"When it comes to the drugs, we don't have the specifics, but it took more NarCan than usual to pull people out of their overdoses," Terry stated.

Since Feb. 19, Lethbridge EMS has responded to a total of 42 overdose calls. In some of the cases, what was initially reported as one overdose evolved to multiple people on scene requiring treatment.

Lethbridge Police Service Insp. Jason Dobirstein says they wanted to issue a warning about the drugs themselves, because there's no quality control when it comes to illicit drugs.

"No matter what you're told you're buying, you have no idea what you're actually getting. These drugs that are on the street, they're made for profit and that's it, so there's a significant risk," Dobirstein said.

The Supervised Consumption Site in Lethbridge is scheduled to open later this week. First responders are encouraging drug users to rely on the services that will be available to ensure their safety.

Dobirstein believes when it does open up, it will have a positive impact for the community.

"If a user can go there, and it's supervised and a safer setting than what we experienced over the weekend, I hope they use it."

And as far as the priority for the police service moving forward?

"The priority for the police today, as it was last week and as it's going to be again next week, is to target the suppliers. We need to make sure we stop the flow of drugs into our community, and that's the best effort we can do," Dobirstein stated.

Dr. Vivien Suttorp, Alberta Health Services Lead Officer of Health for the South Zone said she thinks when there's perhaps a new drug in town, you might see a spike in the amount of emergency department visits related to drug overdoses.

"Certainly, that's what we saw this past weekend, and it puts pressure on a number of different departments, not just in the emergency department," she said.

Police ask that anyone that's going to use drugs, never use alone and have a naloxone kit available and someone who can administer it and in the event of a suspected overdose call 911 immediately.

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