'Unpredictably potent' drugs may have led to spike in overdoses at Insite

Montreal public health backs Toronto call to decriminalize personal drug use

Drug users are being urged to not use alone and to stagger their doses, after a spike in the number of overdoses at Vancouver's safe injection site Tuesday. 

There were 15 overdoses at Insite during the clinic's 18-hour working day which runs from 10 a.m to 3 a.m. the next day. Normally, they say, they see about seven.

"We already doubled the new normal, which is unusually high," said Tim Gauthier, a clinical coordinator at Insite. 

The average used to be two overdoses per day when Insite first opened in 2003. But as of October 2016, when the overdose crisis emerged, that number went up to seven.

"The drugs that are on the street are more potent and unpredictably potent. What we are seeing now is a poisoning crisis," said Gauthier. 

He said staff did some on-site drug testing and found that the drugs had higher than usual concentrations of fentanyl and heroin.

"These are stronger drugs in the context of really strong drugs," he said.

The spike correlates with a delay in the distribution of welfare cheques. 

This month, the cheques were paid out after five weeks instead of four because of the way the calendar year worked out.

Gauthier is urging drug users to not use alone, to stagger their doses, avoid mixing substances, especially depressants and to use at places like Insite or other overdose prevention centres, if they must use drugs.