New data obtained by Radio-Canada shows that the opioid crisis is reaching unprecedented levels in Montreal and Laval as paramedics respond to more overdoses.
In 2022, paramedics at Urgences-Santé 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 Stéphane Smith, a spokesman for Urgences-Santé. “On the other hand, giving naloxone saves lives.”
Naloxone is a fast-acting drug that temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.
“I’m not looking forward to July and August,” Smith said, noting that overdoses tend to spike in the summer.
Lower quality medicines in circulation
Like 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 consume more frequently.
“The stronger the drugs, the more damaging the effect on the person can be, so prompt intervention becomes paramount. Every second counts, not minutes, seconds,” Smith said.
He says that someone who has taken an overdose will lose consciousness, then go into respiratory arrest, followed by cardiac arrest if drugs are not given to reverse the overdose.
Urgences-Santé is not alone in using naloxone to save people from an overdose. Montreal police officers administered naloxone 147 times last year, compared to 115 the year before.
In the subway stations, Montreal Transportation Society (STM) also administered naloxone 15 times between January and March.
According to Montreal Public Health, an average of 14 people die each month from drug overdoses in the city.
Minister Carmant visits a supervised injection center
Quebec’s Minister of Social Services Lionel Carmant is scheduled to visit rue Specter on Friday, one of four supervised injection centers opened in Montreal in 2017.
The site allows people to consume safely and be treated in the event of an overdose, but there is a lack of nurses to accommodate as many people as possible.
The minister is expected to announce additional financial support. She will be accompanied by Josefina Blanco, responsible for the homeless in the executive committee of the City of Montreal.
On Wednesday, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante’s office expressed dismay at three ongoing crises: housing, overdose and mental health.
“As the housing crisis accelerates, homelessness issues have never been more complex due to growing mental health issues and the arrival of highly unclean drugs onto our streets,” Plante said Wednesday.
This is “unpublished”, according to the city, which speaks of a problem whose “scope is acquiring unbearable proportions.”