Community Counselling & Resource Centre

Peterborough illegal drug users welcome overdose prevention site but call for more action

March 8th, 2018

You don’t know the difference until it is in your system and by that time it is too late.

“I took a huge hoot of it and hit the floor instantly,” says Cass, who has struggled with addictions for two years.

“If my buddy hadn’t have been there with his kit (of Naloxone), I would have died.”

The 24-year-old thought she was smoking heroin last week, but it turned out to be fentanyl.

“That is how strong it is, I didn’t even inject it. I took a hoot and boom.”

Just a couple months ago she had to bring her mother back from an overdose.

“The naloxone kits have been very helpful in saving lives,” she says.

But not everyone has been given a second chance at life.  

Last year, 20 people are suspected to have died from opioid overdoses in Peterborough.

In response to the opioid epidemic, Peterborough AIDS Resource Network (PARN) announced earlier this week its bid to expand existing harm reduction services by opening a temporary overdose prevention site to give people a safe space to use drugs.

“It is desperately needed with the contaminated drugs these days,” says Mike Schnarr, who has been an addict for 30 years,.

“There’s too risky of a chance of getting carfentinal, everything is mixed and you don’t know what you are getting anymore.”

Schnarr says he has lost 10 friends in the last six months. He says addicts know they’re playing Russian roulette every time they need a fix but don’t shy away because the addiction is so strong.

“If a dealer has three people overdose on his product, well everyone is going to him because he has the good stuff,” he explains, adding dealers are mixing carfentinal and fentanyl to get more customers and people hooked.

“It is more bang for your buck. Unfortunately, the better drugs are killing people.”

Peterborough Public Health ranked fourth highest in terms of average opioid related deaths per 100,000 population between July 2013 and 2016.

In 2017, Peterborough County/City Paramedics report that they experienced a 66-per-cent increase in overdose and intoxication type calls, compared to an average yearly increase of 15 per cent between 2014 and 2016.

“The carfentanil is the worst. Almost immediately when they inject it they just drop,” says Ted McDowell.

The 53-year-old has been entwined in the Peterborough drug scene for years, working security at local trap houses, including one at the corner of Dalhousie and Rubidge streets, where drugs are used and sold.

“I call it the drop zone because so many people drop there,” he explains.

He says dealers are lacing everything from heroin, cocaine and crack with the deadly opioids, and addicts will use anywhere from street corners, alleyways, public bathrooms, city parks and along the river.

“Addicts are addicts and are going to use but if they have a nice clean safe place to go they will. If I was still injecting, I would go to a nice clean space instead.”

Healthcare professionals say temporary overdose prevention sites are proven to alleviate where drugs are used in public.

“People are looking for a safe place to go,” PARN executive director Kim Dolan said earlier this week.

“If people don’t have a safe place to inject, they find other places to use drugs. That’s one of the things people are responding to, worried there is a public safety issue.”

In addition to sanctioning Temporary Overdose Prevention Sites, Ontario is investing more than $222 million to combat the opioid crisis in Ontario, including expanding harm reduction services, hiring more front-line staff and improving access to addictions supports across the province.

“We don’t have enough rehabs,” says Schnarr.

“The government needs to step up and open and or fund more beds at treatment centres,."

McDowell says decision makers should look at how Europe’s heroin capital Portugal solved its overdose crisis by focusing on treatment and rehabilitation .

“The government should focus on getting people in a clean environment,” he says.

Cass says she can’t escape the drug scene because of Peterborough’s low rental vacancy rate. She’s stuck living in a small room in a trap house on Stewart Street with 11 other people.

“The environment there is fucking hell,” she says.

Portugal also decriminalized drugs and focused treating addictions as a disease, and not a crime.

“Being thrown in jail doesn’t help or solve anything,” Cass says.

“It makes it way worse. Fill up rehab facilities not jails.”