Windsor struggles to combat toxic drug supply

Jan 11, 2024

As Ontario is grappling with a growing drug poisoning crisis, health workers in the Windsor region have been increasingly faced with the challenge of harm reduction as new and increasingly deadly street drugs emerge.

In 2022, fentanyl was a factor in the majority of reported opioid-related deaths in Ontario, according to data from the Office of Chief Coroner. In Windsor-Essex, the number of annual opioid deaths on average has been growing since 2014, when there were 18 recorded deaths. In 2021, there were 84 deaths, and 105 deaths in 2022. There has also been increased detection of street drugs such as “tranq,” which refers to fentanyl mixed with xylazine, the latter being an animal tranquillizer resistant to naloxone, raising the risk of overdose-related death. In addition, consuming tranq can also lead to the development of seeping wounds.  

According to a Health Canada report, tranq has been rapidly spreading across Canada, while 75% of tested drug samples containing xylazine were from Ontario. Furthermore, xylazine has been detected in 184 drug toxicity deaths since 2020. In recent years, tranq has been detected across Canada and in 48 of 50 U.S. states, while in some states such as Philadelphia, up to 90% of the opioid supply is estimated to contain xylazine.

In addition, benzodiazepines have been increasingly found in Windsor’s fentanyl supply, with up to 60% of fentanyl samples testing positive for them, according to the Toronto Drug Checking Service. Since benzodiazepines are depressants, they increase the risk of opioid overdose and death due to suppression of breathing. High-potency and deadly synthetic opioids such as carfentanil have also been increasingly found in Ontario drug samples.

“It’s important for people to know what it is that they’re using, just so that they can make safer choices. When we’re using any type of pharmaceutical or when we’re drinking alcohol or eating any type of food … we have [an ingredients list] or we know exactly what is in those products.”

Karen McDonald, lead for the Toronto Drug Checking Service, in her interview with CBC News

In addition, concerns have been raised over inaccurate numbers of overdoses reported in Windsor. “There are overdoses every single day and they’re not reported,” said Lisa Valente, the manager of Windsor’s House of Hope, a transitional living space for women in recovery in her interview with Windsor Star. “An ambulance isn’t always called. There are people that are carrying naloxone and using naloxone kits, there are agencies that are using naloxone. And if the person is up and breathing and talking, they may not want an ambulance called. So the numbers are way off because there’s a large, large amount of overdoses each and every day that are not reported.”