‘Pink down’ causing overdoses in Winnipeg

In a recent CBC News article, Trudy Monias, a Winnipeg woman who has survived after using a fentanyl-based street drug but couldn’t save her friend from overdose-related death, has spoken out to warn others about substances referred to as ‘pink’ and ‘purple down.’

According to Monias, her own drug and alcohol use is related to the trauma and abuse she has endured. Recently, her partner of eight years died by suicide, causing her to rely on illicit substances to deal with her pain.

Earlier in March, she had invited friends to her home after buying illicit drugs from a dealer for $20. “I thought it was coke. It wasn’t coke. But I bought it anyways,” she said. “And so I snorted it. She took the first big one. It was pink powder.”

‘Pink’ or ‘purple down’ is a drug containing heroin laced with fentanyl, acting as an incredibly potent opioid and significantly contributing to the number of people who died by overdose in Manitoba this past year. Furthermore, this mix can also be laced with benzodiazepines, resulting in slowed breathing even further. The presence of benzodiazepines reduces the effectiveness of Naloxone, or Narcan, which can be used to reverse the effects of opioids.

After taking the drug, Monias’ friend fell backwards into her bathtub, while she fell to the floor beside her. “And she just said, my heart is pounding. I thought she was having a panic attack, or the stuff was good, or something like that. She lied there, not even three minutes. ‘Wake up,’ I said. ‘Wake up.'” When Monias shook her friend and rubbed her breast bone, she was unresponsive.

After they passed out, another woman discovered Monias and her two friends lying unconscious in the apartment and called emergency services.

Paramedics administered many doses of Narcan to the women. However, Monias’ friend, who was from Norway House Cree Nation, was not resuscitated and passed away.

Currently, Manitoba has one of the highest incidences of drug-related deaths in Canada. Between January and December 2020, 372 people overdosed and died in the province, corresponding to an increase of 87% from 2019, according to data from Manitoba’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Rebecca Clifton, the administrative director for the Paramedics Association of Manitoba says paramedics have received more calls to attend to more severe overdoses related to ‘pink’ and ‘purple down.’

Furthermore, Clifton said that the toxic opioid mix has replaced methamphetamine as the most common overdose-related call, and now patients cannot tell first responders what they’ve taken, making them difficult to treat.

Shohan Illsley, executive director of Manitoba’s Harm Reduction Network, called for urgent action to ensure access to a safe supply of their drugs, including being able to purchase and know their contents, as is currently possible with alcohol and cannabis, as well as access to safe consumption sites.

“It’s pretty infuriating because it’s so tragic, the fact that it is 100 per cent preventable and yet it’s still happening,” Illsley said.

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