Operators of a pop-up injection site in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside suspect a bad batch of illegal street drugs is sending more people through their doors than ever this week.
Dave Chevelday, a supervisor with the Overdose Prevention Society (OPS), believes a variety of heroin called "purple pebbles," or just "purple pebs," is causing users to overdose almost instantly.
"It has hardly —if at all any — heroin in it," Chevelday said. "It is basically fentanyl, and they're saying that there could be some ketamine in it as well."
Chevelday said the suspected combination is taking users by surprise, even if they only take their normal dose.
"There's no warning," he said. "They just drop."
Anecdotal evidence of a busy week
Chevelday says site has seen its usage rates steadily climb, with a spike in the last week that he attributes to the currently circulating batch of purple pebbles.
Chevelday says they saw 397 individual users on Tuesday, and more than 300 a day every day in the last week — and overdose numbers are up too.
"[Last week] we had 18 in a week, which is extremely high," he said, adding none were fatal.
According to Vancouver Coastal Health, more than 60 overdoses were reported between Feb. 19 and 25, the most recent week for which data is available.
Gavin Wilson, a spokesperson for the health authority, said in an email that those numbers are fairly typical for what has been reported so far in 2017.
"I understand there may be anecdotal reports about a spike in overdoses this week," Wilson wrote. "But in terms of week over week, there's nothing unusual."
Wilson said official numbers for this week won't be available for a few more days.
Regardless of the reason, Chevelday is taking the pop-up site's increasing visits in stride.
"The more the merrier, because at least that way I know they're safe," he said. "I know they're not dying."
Overdose prevention site are not supervised injections sites as defined by federal law. Instead they provide spaces where drug users can use street drugs under the observation of peers or lay staff and occasionally nurses.
With files from Rafferty Baker.