Nine people, including seven homeless Indigenous people, had to be transported to hospital on Sunday in downtown Montreal for overdoses potentially linked to fentanyl, a tragedy destined to repeat itself due to lack of resources, an expert believes.
“The community is devastated,” said the general director of Projets Autochtones du Québec (PAQ), Heather Johnston, contacted Sunday evening. “We have responders who had to return home, everyone is traumatized. »
In all, seven residents of the Hôtel des Arts, an emergency shelter for indigenous homeless people located on Saint-Dominique Street, in the Ville-Marie borough, had to be hospitalized at the University Hospital Center de Montréal (CHUM) during the day.
Three were in the shelter when responders had to call paramedics to help them.
“They weren’t responding anymore,” says Heather Johnston. Then, around 4:20 p.m., six people who were drinking on the sidewalk, further down the street, on the other side of Ontario Street, had to be rescued in turn.
Of these, four had to be transported to hospital, two men and two women, one of whom was still between life and death at the end of the evening.
Fentanyl in crack?
Saint-Dominique Street was still blocked by orange ribbons on Sunday evening, between Ontario Street and De Maisonneuve Boulevard, while police questioned potential witnesses.
“They all fell at once,” says Eric, a regular in the area who was with the gang when they overdosed.
They must have thought it was crack, but it was actually fentanyl. So they smoked fentanyl.
Éric, a regular in the sector
The latter claims to have quickly administered naloxone, an emergency remedy to prevent overdoses. Urgences-Santé indicates that in the case of two people, the remedy seems to have worked, since hospital transport was not necessary.
Then, around 5:20 p.m., paramedics responded to a second case of “intoxication” in another area of the city center. This time, two men in their 40s were taken to hospital. Urgences-Santé is unable to establish a link between the two events.
The Montreal police, however, announced that they had opened an investigation, since the lives of several people were threatened.
A new phenomenon
Sunday’s black series is the most important event of its kind to have hit the Projets Autochtones du Québec organization, but is far from being the first. Last November, three of its users also overdosed in front of another shelter managed by PAQ, rue De La Gauchetière, still in downtown Montreal.
Two of them escaped unhurt, while the third, a 30-year-old man, died. “They had all bought the same pusher », Underlines the general director of PAQ, Heather Johnston, who suspects that the same thing happened on Sunday.
She adds that she has observed an increase in opioid consumption by Indigenous users, especially since the pandemic.
This is all new. Previously, the problem in the Aboriginal community was alcohol. It’s really recent, maybe in the last year, that we started seeing overdoses.
Heather Johnston, Executive Director of Projets Autochtones du Québec
Faced with this phenomenon, PAQ has equipped itself with naloxone kits and trains its workers accordingly. But the organization is limited when it comes to intervening outside the shelter, as happened on Sunday.
“It has consequences”
While such episodes of serial overdoses are more common in the United States and Western Canada, they are not the norm in Quebec, for the moment at least. “It is bound to be repeated more and more often,” however, believes professor at the School of Psychoeducation at the University of Montreal Jean-Sébastien Fallu.
“People don’t know what they’re consuming and that has consequences,” he explains, pleading for the opening of more assisted consumption centers where users would be able to have the content of the drugs they use tested. ‘they consume.
“It’s time to put our morals aside,” he insists. It’s about saving lives. »