Opioid use suspected in Calgary crashes

CALGARY — A man high on fentanyl or some similar powerful opioid caused a series of hit-and-runs on a Calgary expressway and almost overdosed before being revived, city police said Thursday.

The growing use of new synthetic opioids that can be lethal even in very small amounts has led to more motorists being found severely impaired and near death, according to some emergency responders.

“We’ve had cases where people have pulled over as they’ve gone into … cardiac arrest,” said Alex Forrest, head of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg union.

“People think they can drive (while on opioids), they’re looking after children. They believe they can handle it.”

Calgary police Insp. Ken Thrower said it was a “miracle” no one was seriously injured or killed in the collisions Wednesday night.

Motorists called 911 to report an erratic driver who was colliding with other vehicles.

The driver eventually crashed. When officers got to the scene, they revived him with naloxone — a drug used to prevent overdoses from powerful opioids such as fentanyl.

“They revived him and prevented him from overdosing,” Thrower said. “The officers had trained and administered that properly and may have well saved the individual’s life.”

Police laid charges of impaired driving and careless driving.

Calgary police are receiving more reports of drug-impaired driving including opioids, cannabis and other less-powerful drugs.

Thrower said the increase may be due to more public awareness about the dangers of drug-impaired driving, similar to the growing public response to drunk driving.

Forrest said first responders in Winnipeg respond to opioid-related calls virtually every day, including in homes and vehicles.

Police forces across the country have warned of the growing use of opioids such as fentanyl, a synthetic drug 100 times more powerful than heroin, and its even more-powerful relative, carfentanil.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving said it has seen a big increase in drug-related driving offences, but the vast majority involve softer drugs such as cannabis.

“I think the reason why you see so much cannabis is because a lot of young people use it and they don’t see it as impairing as alcohol, so they’re willing to take the risk of … getting behind the wheel,” said the group’s chief executive officer,” Andrew Murie. “I think with other drugs … the impairment is so severe that I don’t think most of those users see driving as an option.”

The federal and provincial governments have stepped up efforts to detect and deter drug-impaired driving with the looming legalization of marijuana next year.

New roadside saliva-test kits that can detect a wide variety of drugs are being implemented and public awareness campaigns are being planned.

In Saskatchewan alone, 56 police officers are trained as drug recognition officers, with 18 more scheduled for training soon, according to RCMP.

Murie called on provincial governments to ensure licence-suspension rules are tough enough for when marijuana becomes legal.

He said one example would be a zero-tolerance requirement for cannabis for new drivers under 21, similar to the rules for alcohol.

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