Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Winnipeg crews seeing spike in overdoses: union

By The Canadian Press   

Headlines News

Nov. 17, 2016, Winnipeg - First responders are dealing with overdoses every day in what has become a fentanyl crisis in Manitoba's capital, the head of the city's firefighters union said Wednesday.

“Where before a paramedic would go to one or two overdoses a year, now we’re seeing firefighter-paramedics attending to overdoses every single day,” Alex Forrest of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg said.

“Our guys and girls are going out to these calls and going to these events, and sometimes we have two or three individuals that we’re reviving that are on the verge of cardiac arrest because of the fentanyl use.”

Forrest’s remarks came hours after two women and one man were found dead inside a home in a residential neighbourhood in the city’s northwest. A white powder was found inside the home.

Police said they suspected the powder might be fentanyl — a synthetic opioid — or its much more powerful cousin carfentanil. Lab tests on the powder are expected to take a few weeks.


Police and health officials across North America say fentanyl poses a serious threat to public safety. The opioid is used as a painkiller for terminally ill cancer patients and is 100 times more powerful than heroin.

The British Columbia government declared a public health emergency in April because of a dramatic increase in overdose deaths in the province, much of them caused by fentanyl. A new liquid form of the drug turned up this year in Hamilton, Ont.

Carfentanil — a drug so strong that a dose the size of a few grains can be fatal — was first found in Winnipeg in the summer when police raided a hotel room and found 1,477 doses. Last month, a nine-month-old boy was rushed to hospital after being exposed to it.

Police say carfentanil can be mixed in with other drugs such as cocaine or crystal meth, so users may not even be aware they are ingesting it.

“This type of incident is on everyone’s minds,” Const. Rob Carver said. “It’s changing the landscape of how we work and how first responders work.”

Winnipeg police warned drug users in September to have a naloxone overdose prevention kit on hand when using carfentanil, fentanyl or heroin. The kits can be purchased without a prescription at pharmacies, and opioid users can get them for free through a program run by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

The Bear Clan Patrol, a volunteer group that walks inner-city streets in Winnipeg and keeps an eye on some of the city’s most vulnerable citizens, recently had its members trained on how to administer naloxone.

Sheri Fandrey, who has a PhD in pharmacology and works at the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, said some drug users, especially younger ones, are not likely to heed the many warnings about the dangers of fentanyl and carfentanil.

“When we’re talking about younger people, they’re probably still under that illusion of invincibility, or the (belief that) ‘Oh, I’m only going to try it once’, and they never get a chance to try it a second or third time.”

Forrest, whose union is planning to launch a public awareness campaign about the drug this week, said fentanyl and carfentanil are not just inner-city drugs. The deaths Wednesday occurred in a suburban area of single-family homes.

“We are seeing this in all areas of the city.”

Print this page


Stories continue below