New data obtained by Radio-Canada shows that the opioid crisis is reaching unprecedented levels in Montreal and Laval as paramedics are responding to more overdoses.
In 2022, Urgences-Santé paramedics administered Naloxone a record 291 times, compared to 194 in 2020 and 136 in 2018. This year looks set to be worse, with 163 interventions recorded between January and June.
“It’s worrying,” says Urgences-Santé spokesperson Stéphane Smith. “On the other hand, giving Naloxone saves lives.”
Naloxone is a fast-acting drug that temporarily neutralizes the effects of an opioid overdose.
“I’m not looking forward to July and August,” said Smith, noting overdoses tend to spike in the summer.
Lower-quality drugs in circulation
As in many North American cities, Montreal is experiencing a deterioration in the quality of drugs in circulation.
Addiction specialists note the virtual disappearance of heroin, replaced by fentanyl analogues, which people have to use more frequently.
“The stronger the drugs, the more harmful the effect can be on the person, so rapid intervention becomes paramount. Every second counts — not minutes, seconds,” said Smith.
He says that someone who has overdosed will lose consciousness, then go into respiratory arrest, followed by cardiac arrest if no overdose reversal drugs are administered.
Urgences-Santé is not alone in using Naloxone to save people from overdose. Montreal police officers administered Naloxone 147 times last year, compared with 115 the previous year.
In Metro stations, Société de transport de Montréal (STM) officers also administered Naloxone 15 times between January and March.
According to Montreal Public Health, an average of 14 people die every month from drug overdoses in the city.
Minister Carmant visits a supervised injection centre
Quebec Social Services Minister Lionel Carmant is scheduled to visit Spectre de rue on Friday, one of four supervised injection centres opened in Montreal in 2017.
The site allows people to consume in safety and to be taken care of in case of overdose, but it is lacking nurses to accommodate as many people as possible.
The minister is expected to announce additional financial support. He will be accompanied by Josefina Blanco, who is responsible for homelessness at the executive committee of the City of Montreal.
On Wednesday, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante’s office expressed its dismay three ongoing crises: housing, overdoses and mental health.
“While the housing crisis is accelerating, homelessness issues have never been so complex given the skyrocketing mental health problems and the arrival of highly impure drugs on our streets,” Plante said on Wednesday.
This is “unprecedented,” according to the city, which speaks of a problem whose “scope is taking on unbearable proportions.”