Two men who were hospitalized following a wave of overdoses in downtown Montreal Sunday say they believe they inhaled a drug from a poisoned supply, and they feel lucky to be alive.
David Wabanonik-Conrad and Lennon Poucachiche say they were part of a group of six people who overdosed near the corner of Ontario and St-Dominique streets Sunday afternoon.
Four people, including Wabanonik-Conrad and Poucachiche, were taken to hospital by paramedics. The two men originally from the Algonquin community of Lac-Simon in northern Quebec say they were discharged Monday morning.
A 42-year-old woman remains in hospital in critical condition. The state of another patient who was initially in critical condition has improved, police said Monday.
"I just took a small puff and I just started to feel horrible. I'm usually just a pot smoker. This is the first time this has happened to me," Wabanonik-Conrad said, adding he is concerned for a cousin who was part of the group and is still hospitalized.
David Wabanonik-Conrad said he felt awful after taking a puff of a drug, believed to have been poisoned with fentanyl, that landed him and three other people in hospital Sunday afternoon. (CBC)
Poucachiche said he was still feeling tired and shaky.
"I just remember falling down slowly and when I closed my eyes, I don't remember after that," he said, adding he, too, does not typically inhale hard drugs.
"I never do that in my community. I told people, 'Don't smoke that s--t. It's not good.' Because, you know, you can die very fast. I feel lucky."
Lennon Poucachiche says he warned people not to inhale hard drugs after he was sent to hospital due to a suspected poisoned supply Sunday. (CBC)
Montreal public health said it is now conducting its own investigation into the overdoses. Montreal police have said they are investigating as well.
Fentanyl poisoning suspected
Matthew Biddle, the housing manager of Project Autochtone du Québec (PAQ), a nearby organization for Indigenous people in situations of homelessness, said his group's intervention team responded almost immediately Sunday.
"We definitely suspect overdose due to fentanyl," Biddle said in an interview, calling the situation "unprecedented" but saying his group has seen a significant rise in overdoses in the past year.
Between July 2022 and August 2023 public health officials in Montreal counted 1,255 overdoses — the highest annual total ever recorded on the island, according to a report released last month. Out of those overdoses, 175 were fatal.
Health officials also say more people appear to be stepping up to be ready to assist by equipping themselves with naloxone kits.
This past weekend, ambulance staff administered naloxone seven times, according to an Urgences-santé spokesperson. The total for the year is 223 as of Sunday. In 2022, it was 291 — a record for the service.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the province's Health Ministry said it takes the fight against opioids seriously and pointed out Quebec has committed to spend $15 million a year on on prevention. It's also set aside about $37 million over five years for community groups that deal directly with drug users.
Several ambulances were dispatched to St-Dominique Street in Montreal to tend to six people after a series of intoxications on Sunday. (CBC News)
According to Urgences-santé spokesperson Julie Gaudin, responding to this many overdoses at the same location is "something we rarely see."
Police say it's not clear what led to the accidental overdoses but that it's possible they were caused by a drug poisoned with fentanyl. They are recommending that people who use drugs have them tested.
In an interview with Radio-Canada on Monday, the executive director of CACTUS Montréal, a safe injection site, stressed the importance of never consuming drugs alone.
"In a market that's not regulated, the best security is people being around you," said Jean-François Mary. "In that case, try to avoid consuming drugs at the same time so that if one person is overdosing, the other person is able to step in."
Mary says people who witness an overdose should call 911. He also urges people accustomed to being around drug users to learn how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and how to use naloxone kits.
CACTUS and three other organizations offer drug-testing services. For more information, click here.