Fentanyl is an opioid that is much more toxic than most other opioids. Opioids include drugs like heroin, morphine, fentanyl, methadone and codeine. Fentanyl is usually prescribed in a patch form as a painkiller. It is around 50 to 100 times more toxic than morphine. This makes the risk of accidental overdose much higher.
There are also different Fentanyls being made illegally and sold on the streets. This illicit fentanyl is often made as a powder and mixed with other drugs (like heroin, cocaine or crack). It is also being pressed into pills and sold as things like ‘oxycodone’ (oxycontin, oxys, eighties) or other pills including speed and ecstasy/MDMA.
When fentanyl is mixed with other opioids, alcohol, benzodiazepines, or stimulants like cocaine, it increases the risk of accidental overdose.
Illicit fentanyl is much more toxic than other pharmaceutical opioids. There is no easy way to know if fentanyl is in your drugs. You can’t see it, smell it or taste it. Any drug can be cut (mixed) with fentanyl. Even a very small amount can cause an overdose.
When you are getting drugs from anywhere other than from a pharmacy or medical professional, like from a friend, ordering online, or a dealer, there is no way to be sure exactly what is in them or how toxic they may be.
It’s important to know that drugs other than fentanyl can also cause an overdose!
Carfentanil is an opioid that is used by veterinarians for very large animals like elephants. It is not for human use. It is approximately 100 times more toxic than fentanyl and 10,000 times more toxic than morphine. This means carfentanil can be deadly in extremely small amounts.
Carfentanil has been found here in Ontario. It is being cut in to other illicit drugs like heroin and counterfeit pills made to look like prescription opiods (including green pills stamped ‘CDN’ on one side and ‘80’ on the other). There is no easy way to know if carfentanil is in your drugs, you can’t see it, smell it or taste it. It is extremely toxic and a very small amount can cause an overdose.
Learn how to prevent, recognize and respond to an overdose. Anyone who uses drugs can be at risk for overdose.
You may not know that someone you love is using drugs. By learning more, you could save their life.
What is an overdose?
An overdose happens when a person uses more of a drug, or a combination of drugs, than the body can handle. As a result, the brain is not able to control basic life functions. The person may:
- Pass out,
- Stop breathing,
- Have a heart attack, or
- Experience seizures depending on what drugs they have used.
Learn the signs and symptoms of different types of drug overdoses below!
Anyone can overdose: first time users, people who have been using for a long time, people who use regularly, people who only use once and awhile, seniors, young people, overdose doesn’t discriminate.
- There is no exact formula for figuring out how much of a certain drug, or combination of drugs, will lead to an overdose. How strong a drug is (potency), how a drug is taken- whether swallowed, snorted of injected, how much of a drug, and how often a drug is used all are factors.
- Factors like weight, health, and tolerance for a drug at that particular time all play a role.
- Overdose risk is higher when you haven’t used in awhile (whether you took a break, or were in treatment, hospital, or jail).
Ottawa Overdose Statistics
In 2015, 48 Ottawa residents died from unintentional drug overdose:
- 29 of these, or almost 2 in 3 deaths were due to opioids
- Fentanyl was involved in 14 of these deaths, more than 1 in 4
Figure 1: Unintentional drug overdose deaths in Ottawa by type of drug involved, 2015
Data source: Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario, extracted December 2, 2016. Analyzed by Epidemiology Team, Ottawa Public Health.
Age: These 48 overdose deaths were not distributed evenly across ages; some age groups were more impacted than others. One third of those who died, 15 people, were under 40 years old. See chart below.
Figure 2: Age distribution of Ottawa unintentional drug overdose deaths, 2015 (48 deaths total)
Data source: Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario, extracted December 2, 2016. Analyzed by Epidemiology Team, Ottawa Public Health. (Data table below)
The rate of drug overdose increased 32% in Ottawa between 2014 and 2015 and only 6% in the rest of Ontario.
The increase in unintentional overdose deaths in Ottawa and in the rest of Ontario has been due to increased unintentional opioid overdose deaths, and since 2014, fentanyl has been involved in the largest proportion of drug overdose deaths in Ottawa.
If you are going to use:
Don’t Use Alone
- If you overdose when you are alone there will be no one there to help you.
- When using with someone else, don’t use at the same time. Be sure your friend is willing to call for help, and make a plan for what to do if an overdose happens.
- If you do use alone, tell someone before you use. Leave the door unlocked and have someone come check on you.
Don’t Mix Drugs
- Don’t mix drugs with other drugs or alcohol.
- Mixing with other drugs puts you at higher risk of overdose.
- If you are going to mix, use one drug at a time or use less of each drug.
- The quality of street drugs is unpredictable. Fentanyl is being cut (mixed) into both opioid and non opioid drugs:
- Made as a powder and mixed into cocaine, heroin, and crack.
- Made as pills and being sold as ‘oxycodone’ (eighties, oxys) or other pills including ecstasy/MDMA.
- You may not be able to taste, smell or see it. Even very small amounts can cause an overdose.
- Start using in small amounts and do “testers” (or test doses) to check the strength of what you are using.
- Naloxone is a medication that can temporarily reverse an opioid overdose.
- Naloxone is available free to people who use drugs and their family and friends!
- Learn more about Naloxone and where to get a kit.
Know your tolerance
- Tolerance is the body’s ability to ‘handle’ the effects of the drug being used. Tolerance to a drug develops over time.
- Drug tolerance will decrease when somebody has taken a break from using – whether intentionally or unintentionally (like while in treatment, hospital or jail).
- Your tolerance will also change depending on:
- Lower immune system (from hepatitis for example),
- Lack of sleep,
- Other drugs/medications being used, and
- General health.
- Use less drugs when your tolerance may be lower.
- Your risk of overdose increases if you are a new user or haven’t used in 3+ days!
- Drugs can be tampered with at any point. People buying or selling drugs may not be aware if it has been cut with anything before they sell it to you.
A paramedic speaks about overdose prevention and calling 911.
An overdose may look different from one person to the next and depending on the drugs involved. An overdose is a medical emergency and the first step is always to call 911.
Type of drug
Common signs and symptoms of an overdose
(like heroin, morphine, fentanyl, methadone, oxycontin)
(like cocaine, speed, crystal meth, MDMA/ecstasy)
(like acid, LSD, ketamine, magic mushrooms)
|Download the Signs and Symptoms PDF [1.8 MB] from the Ontario Harm and Reduction Distribution Program website|
Naloxone is a medication that can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Opioids include drugs like heroin, morphine, fentanyl, methadone and codeine.
How does Naloxone work?
In an opioid overdose a person’s breathing slows down or stops. Naloxone blocks the effect of opioids on the brain. It temporarily reverses these effects on a person’s breathing. Giving naloxone can prevent death or brain damage from lack of oxygen.
Naloxone will only work on opioid-related overdoses. It is important to remember that a lot of other drugs are being cut with fentanyl. If the person has used any drugs and is showing signs of an opioid overdose call 911 and give naloxone.
How long does Naloxone take to work?
Naloxone usually starts working in 1 to 5 minutes. Repeated doses may needed if the person is still showing signs of overdose.
The effects of naloxone only last for 30 to 60 minutes. If the opioid is still in the body after the naloxone wears off, the overdose can return. This is why it is so important to call 911 in every overdose situation!
Learn more about Naloxone from the following University of Waterloo video:
Being able to recognize the signs of an overdose quickly and having a naloxone kit can save a life. Naloxone can buy time while you wait for the paramedics to arrive. Take-home naloxone kits do not replace the need for emergency care or minimize the importance of calling 911.
You can get a take-home naloxone kit for free from pharmacies and other agencies in Ottawa. When you get your kit you will also receive training on overdose prevention, recognizing an overdose and how to respond. Below is a list of places where you can get a free Naloxone kit in Ottawa:
- Ottawa Public Health’s Site Needle & Syringe Program provides free kits and training for clients and their family or friends. Visit our
- Site Office @ 179 Clarence St (in the Byward Market) from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm Monday to Friday
- Mobile Site Van (provides service throughout the City of Ottawa): 5:00pm to 11:30pm 7 days a week, phone 613-232-3232
- Many local Ottawa Pharmacies: To find a participating pharmacy near you, call the Drug and Alcohol Helpline @ 1-800-565-8603. Once you have located a pharmacy, Ottawa Public Health suggests you call ahead to make sure that they currently have naloxone available.
- The Ottawa Hospital- offers training and naloxone kits for registered patients at risk of overdose.
- Sandy Hill Community Health Centre’s Oasis Overdose Prevention Service (221 Nelson Street 1st floor, 613 569-3488)
- available through walk-in services Monday-Friday
5 Steps to Save a Life
- Shake & shout: Shake the person’s shoulders and shout their name
- Call 9-1-1: If the person is not responding
- Naloxone: Inject 1 ampoule (1ml) of naloxone into the arm or leg muscle
- Compressions or CPR and/or rescue breathing as trained
- Is it working? If there is no change after 3-5 minutes give the next dose of naloxone and continue with compressions/recue breathing/CPR until ambulance arrives
If you have to leave the person at any time put them in the recovery position. The recovery position helps keep a person’s airway open so they can breathe and can prevent them from choking on vomit or spit.
- Responder extending victims closest arm above the victims head
- Responder positions other arm across the victims chest and bends furthest leg at the knee. Victim is rolled towards responder and placed on side
- Victim laying on side with head stabilized on extended arm. Knee is bent and stabilized
It is important to stay with a person after giving them naloxone:
- The person may be confused and frightened when they wake up. You will need to tell them what happened.
- A lot of opioids can last longer in the body than naloxone, so an overdose could return. It is important to make sure that the person knows not to take any more drugs!
- It is important to tell paramedics everything you know about the situation so they can provide the best care.
- Naloxone may cause people who have used opioids to go into withdrawal. This may make the person want to use again. Using more will increase the risk of overdose as the naloxone wears off.
- This can be very uncomfortable for the person but is not life threatening. Withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Muscle aches,
For full training on how to give naloxone, visit the locations listed above.
Learn about tips on how to respond to overdoses of a stimulant like cocaine, crystal meth, speed, MDMA, or Ritalin.
Potent and dangerous fentanyl is turning up in many different drugs, often where youth don’t expect to find it, such as in party drugs like cocaine and ecstasy /MDMA. In Ottawa it has already been found as a powder and mixed with other drugs like heroin and cocaine. It is also being pressed into pills and sold as things like ‘oxycodone’ (oxycontin, oxys, eighties) or other pills including speed and ecstasy/MDMA.
It can be hard to tell if your child is using drugs. Experts recommend looking for a pattern or a number of changes in their behaviour, appearance and attitudes.
See overdose section to learn to recognize and respond to an overdose.
Accessing naloxone can be as easy as going to your local pharmacy.
Where can I get parent specific information?
Parent’s stories (Videos):
Caution: these videos contain imaging and stories of overdose that may be upsetting to some.
Overdose awareness - Leslie McBain, lost a child to overdose
Overdose Awareness 30 sec. Ad
For more information about harm reduction services offered in Ottawa please visit: OPH Site Needle and Syringe Program website.
Fentanyl Facts [PDF 103 KB]
- Ottawa Withdrawal Management Centre
1777 Montreal Road., 613-241-1525
Support Services and Treatment
- O.A.A.R.S. Ottawa Addictions Access and Referral Services
- Addiction Services, The Ottawa Mission
35 Waller St., 613-234-1144
- T.E.S.P Transitional Emergency Shelter Program, Shepherds of Good Hope
256 King Edward Ave., 613-688-2929, ext. 349
- Managed Alcohol Program
256 King Edward Ave., 613-688-1848
- The Oaks, Shepherds of Good Hope
1053-1057 Merivale Rd., 613-288-0374
- Alcoholics Anonymous Hotline
- Narcotics Anonymous Hotline
- Addiction and Mental Health Services Sandy Hill Community Health Centre
221 Nelson St., 613-789-8941
- Acu-detox, Sandy Hill Community Health Centre
221 Nelson St., 613-569-3488
- Amythyst Women's Addiction Centre
488 Wilbrod St., 613-563-0363
- Youth Services Bureau – Downtown Drop In
147 Besserer St., 613-241-7788 ext 300 or ext 400
- Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre
112 Willowlea Road, Carp, 613-594-8333
- Royal Ottawa Hospital
1145 Carling Ave.
- Canadian Mental Health Association
1355 Bank Street, Suite 301, 613-737-7791
- Rideauwood Addiction and Family Services
312 Parkdale Ave., 613-724-4881
- Serenity Renewal for Families
202-2255 St. Laurent Blvd., 613-523-5143
- SMART Recovery
- Ontario Addiction Treatment Centres
401 Somerset St West., 613-233-1114
263 Montreal Rd., 613-749-9666
1318 Carling Ave., 613-627-0856
- Recovery Ottawa
11 Selkirk St., 613-680-7444
- Oasis, Sandy Hill Community Health Centre
221 Nelson St., 613-569-3488
- Oasis Sandy Hill Community Health Centre
If you are feeling sadness or experiencing any other negative emotional reactions here are some links to resources that might help:
- OPH Mental Health Resources
- Resources for stressful events
- The Distress Centre - 613-238-3311 (English only)
- Mental Health Crisis Line 613-722-6914 (English and French)
Data table for Figure 2: Age distribution of Ottawa unintentional drug overdose deaths, 2015 (48 deaths total)
|Age group||Percentage of deaths|
|10 to 19 years||2%|
|20 to 29 years||12%|
|30 to 39 years||19%|
|40 to 49 years||15%|
|50 to 59 years||37%|
|60 years and older||15%|