More than 400 Manitobans died of drug overdoses last year

More than 400 Manitobans lost their lives due to drug overdoses last year, continuing a dire trend that has seen overdose deaths increase since 2019.

According to preliminary data from Manitoba’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, 418 Manitobans died from a drug-related death in 2022 – an increase from 407 reported in 2021.

The province says the number could change as toxicology reports are completed.

October saw the highest number of drug-related deaths per month in Manitoba last year, with 43 deaths reported.

“Fentanyl is far and away the most prevalent drug in these deaths, being present in more than half of them. The other major drivers of mortality are cocaine and methamphetamine,” Manitoba’s Chief Medical Examiner John Younes said in an emailed statement.

Younes said the monthly totals for drug-related deaths in Manitoba have varied between the high 20s and low 40s for the past couple of years, with a record 55 deaths in August 2021.

However, the number of drug-related deaths has steadily increased in Manitoba in recent years. In 2019, 200 deaths were reported. That number increased to 372 deaths in 2020.

Younes said “down”, a combination of fentanyl and methamphetamine, is the most commonly used street drug now. Down is often combined with one or more other drugs to increase the potency and strength of the high.

“These additional substances have varied over the last few years, and are typically fentanyl analogs and/or powerful drugs of the benzodiazepine class such as alprazolam (Xanax), etizolam, or flu alprazolam. Currently, the fentanyl analog that is appearing in a significant percentage of toxicology reports is para-fluorofentanyl,” Younes said.

The provincial government proposed a bill in March that would require supervised drug consumption sites, addiction centres with beds and withdrawal-management services to apply for a provincial licence. This licence would govern what they could and could not do.

The bill has been criticized by local advocates who say it would impact their current harm reduction operations.

The Manitoba NDP paused the bill, meaning it likely will not be passed before the election slated for Oct. 3.

Younes said preliminary data for the first months of 2023 is expected to become available within the next week or two.

-With files from CTV’s Danton Unger.

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