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More than 75 per cent of fatal drug overdoses in Montreal occurred at home, public health finds

Montreal public health authorities say 175 deaths related to suspected drug overdoses occurred in the city over the past year and the majority of those fatalities took place at home.

The latest data was released Thursday to coincide with International Overdose Awareness Day, a global campaign designed to end overdoses.

The department, which compiled statistics from August 2022 to July 2023, notes that 77 per cent ⁠— or more than three out of four — of the deaths occurred at home.

Of the 175 Montrealers who died, nine per cent were homeless. Public health authorities also noted that overdosing doesn’t discriminate when it comes to age, but those between the ages of 40 and 59 were particularly affected.

Suspected drug-related fatalities also disproportionately affect men in the city, with 138 who died in the last year. Meanwhile, 38 women died in the same time period.

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“Behind those numbers are real people and it’s really important to remember that, to remember the families and friends of people who died from drug overdoses in the last year,” Montreal public health physician Dr. Benoit Corriveau said.

The city’s public health department says there were also “many lives” saved by community organizations, paramedics, first responders and citizens. This includes 708 emergency interventions at supervised consumption sites, where people can bring their own drugs to use in the presence of trained staff.

Centres like CACTUS Montréal saw a record number of overdoses last year, with 350 at its site.

But what is more startling is their recent numbers — since April, the centre has had on average, 40 overdoses a month.

“People are desperate — people are getting poorer and poorer,” CACTUS Montréal executive director Jean-François Mary said. “People have a lot more issues getting a roof over their head.”

Even the climatic situation is not good. Kids in school are using Xanax for fun. That’s not something that brings a lot of hope and when there is no hope, there is death.”

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The department reported that paramedics also carried out 547 interventions across the city using naloxone, a medication that reverses opioid overdoses.

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Public health authorities said “contamination and instability of drugs sold on the illicit market, stigma and criminalization are among the many contributing factors that need to be addressed.”

“There is an urgent need to act,” the department said in a statement.

The latest numbers come about a month after the Quebec government announced a boost in funding for supervised consumption sites in Montreal as the city grapples with homelessness and a rise in suspected drug-related deaths.

The province set aside an additional $1.5 million for services targeted to drug users, including $1.2 million that will go to four organizations in the downtown, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and Village neighbourhoods.

Even though centres like CACTUS are saving lives, Mary says they aren’t the solution to the problem. More needs to be done quickly to stop the crisis, he argues.

“Behind that crisis, our governments need to step up and end prohibition like they ended prohibition of alcohol at the beginning of last century. That’s what needs to be done.”

with files from The Canadian Press

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