'Alarming' new drug found in Ottawa's unregulated supply

Public health officials and first responders fear the appearance of a dangerous new drug on Ottawa's streets could lead to even more overdoses. (Radio-Canada/Patrick Andre Perron - image credit)
Public health officials and first responders fear the appearance of a dangerous new drug on Ottawa's streets could lead to even more overdoses. (Radio-Canada/Patrick Andre Perron - image credit)

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) and emergency responders are warning about a new drug that they say could lead to more overdoses in the city.

In a joint statement Thursday, OPH, Ottawa police and the city's overdose prevention and response taskforce issued an alert after the first sample of a drug called "N-pyrrolidino etonitazene" —also known as "Pyro" — was detected this week.

According to OPH, the drug belongs to a class of substances referred to as nitazene opioids, and is considered to be roughly 10 times more toxic than fentanyl and 1,000 to 1,500 times more toxic than morphine.

The drug was found in counterfeit hydromorphone (Dilaudid) M8 tablets. The white tablets were three-sided and labelled with the letter M and the number 8.

The drug was most recently confirmed to be involved in an overdose in 2022, according to OPH. There were 22 deaths in 2022 and 39 deaths in 2021 where Nitaznese were present.

Counterfeit Hydromorphone M8 tablets were found in Ottawa containing a highly toxic drug called N-pyrrolidino etonitazen.
Counterfeit Hydromorphone M8 tablets were found in Ottawa containing a highly toxic drug called N-pyrrolidino etonitazen.

Counterfeit hydromorphone M8 tablets were found in Ottawa containing a highly toxic drug called N-pyrrolidino etonitazen, or 'Pyro.' (Ottawa Public Health)

Morgan Dalgleish, supervisor of OPH's harm reduction program, said nitazene opioids are not new, but this is the first time they've appeared in Ottawa's unregulated drug supply. He called the discovery "alarming."

"They've been around for about 60 years as a synthetic opiate created by scientists not to replace morphine, but to be an alternative to morphine," Dalgleish said.

"There has been a steady increase in toxicity in this drug supply, which has made things unpredictable and definitely unsafe."

High toxicity, higher risk

Dalgleish said other unregulated opioids including oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone and Percocet have been found to contain nitazenes in Ontario.

He added that because of Pyro's toxicity, the risk of overdosing is higher and greater doses of naloxone may be required to help someone experiencing an overdose.

"This really paints the importance of carrying naloxone in the first place," Dalgleish said.

OPH is reminding those who use drugs not to use alone and to carry naloxone, which is available for free through various programs in the city. To be effective, a repeat dose of naloxone is needed every two to three minutes until the person responds or first responders arrive.

"The buddy system is absolutely safer than using alone. So, if you are using with someone else, please at least use one at a time before the other person does," Dalgleish said.

"If people are using alone, please tell someone before you do use."

There are currently three supervised consumption sites operating in Ottawa.