A supervised consumption site in the Outaouais is detecting a dangerous mixture of crystal meth contaminated with fentanyl that's been circulating in the region in recent weeks.
Adrien St-Onge, coordinator of the supervised consumption site at the Bureau régional d'action sida (BRAS) in Gatineau, Que., said it's not the first time they've seen this kind of drug combination, but the quantities are alarming.
"It's just right now, we see a big amount of that mix with a positive test result," St-Onge said.
Of 10 different crystal meth drug samples tested in the last three weeks, St-Onge said traces of fentanyl were found in every one.
Across the river in Ottawa, the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre said it's not seeing similar test results, but added it could be a matter of time before it does.
'There is no quality control'
"Because the market is so unpredictable ... we can see a flurry of overdoses from one day to the next," said Derrick St John, Oasis Program Manager at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre.
Since October, Derrick St John has tested 300 samples of drugs at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre. Thirty indicated crystal meth but none was found to be laced with fentanyl. (Celeste Decaire/CBC News)
Since Oct. 1, the health centre's drug testing machine has tested 300 different kinds of drugs including fentanyl, cocaine, ketamine, MDMA and methamphetamine, otherwise known as crystal meth.
Of the drugs tested at the centre since the fall, 30 samples have come back identified as crystal meth, but none was determined to be laced with either fentanyl or highly potent carfentanil.
"This device tests only a very small sample of the drug, so it's possible that if the sample is contaminated, we're just not seeing it in the part that we're testing," St John said.
People are looking for fentanyl, even though they're playing with their life. - Louise Beaudoin, Ottawa Inner City Health
That's part of the problem, he added.
"For someone purchasing crystal meth, they could do one hit of it and could take a successful hit of that, and then the fifth hit is the one that has fentanyl."
The key message is that no street drug can be considered safe, and the risk of cross-contamination is high.
"There is no quality control, so you just never know. There could be a little, there could be a lot. We just don't know," St John said.
Community 'talks to each other'
Even when consumed in very small quantities, fentanyl can cause overdoses and death. Despite its inherent risks, users are intentionally seeking out the substance.
"People are looking for fentanyl, even though they're playing with their life," said Louise Beaudoin, nursing manager at Ottawa Inner City Health.
The Scatter Series 1 can test over 20 different types of drugs and detect what's in them including fentanyl, carfentanil and benzodiazapines, which are do not respond to naloxone in the case of an overdose. (Celeste Decaire/CBC)
Beaudoin said drug testing centres really do help by giving users information about the substance they plan to inhale or inject. Many, Beaudoin said, choose to adjust their dose based on what the testing reveals.
The community also talks to each other, and will warn of a bad batch or a potentially off putting supply.
"They will say, 'Hey, this colour is extremely strong, watch out. Cut your dose in half or even less.' They protect each other and they want to know what's out there," Beaudoin said.
In a statement, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) said it is aware of the presence of fentanyl in much of the city's unregulated drug supply. It's seen a significant increase in the harms caused by fatal and non-fatal drug overdoses.
The health unit said an increasingly toxic and unpredictable supply of unregulated drugs has worsened the situation.
OPH reported 1,076 opioid-related visits to hospital emergency departments from January to October 2023.