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Canada Milton, Ont., police investigating possible opioid-laced cannabis after teens overdose

Part of Cannabis and your health

Police are working on the assumption that two teenagers found unconscious with vomit around their mouths after smoking marijuana overdosed on opioid-laced cannabis.

Peter Dejong/AP

Police in the Toronto bedroom community of Milton are investigating whether two teenagers smoked cannabis tainted with an opioid after they suffered overdoses similar to those caused by fentanyl.

Officers responded to a small gathering of friends early Wednesday afternoon after a neighbour witnessed a 16-year-old boy and an 18-year-old man collapse on the back porch of a house in a new subdivision and called the authorities, according to Inspector Kevin Maher of the Halton Regional Police Service.

Both victims were found unconscious with vomit around them and the stench of cannabis, he said. Officers quickly administered naloxone to both victims, Insp. Maher said, with one waking up right away and the other needing another dose of the antidote before both were transferred to hospital. Both teens were released on Wednesday night and police are now trying to find out whether they took other substances before the overdoses or whether the cannabis in a bong found at the scene was tainted with a powerful opioid, he said.

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Police are working on the assumption that they overdosed on opioid-laced cannabis, he said. That is why the force put out a news release Wednesday night and held a news conference Thursday morning to describe the incident and educate parents and children about ways to reduce the harms associated with consuming any illicit drugs. Halton’s officers have been equipped with naloxone kits since April, 2018, and they have deployed the antidote more than 20 times, he said.

“I have teenagers myself and I don’t want to sound like I’m fearmongering … but the reality is if you’re consuming anything that did not come from a prescription that was given to you by a physician or purchased from the government [cannabis] store, you cannot be sure of what you’re taking," Insp. Maher told The Globe and Mail Thursday. “Make sure you keep an eye on one another and then – if there is some medical distress – don’t be afraid of the consequences of calling 911."

Because officers treated it as a medical incident, the force is still waiting to see whether the two teens will hand over more of the substance they took so a sample can be sent to an accredited lab and any adulterants identified, Insp. Maher said. Investigators are also seeking permission to access any toxicology tests done on the teens at the hospital.

“We’re going to do everything within our power to try to get some confirmation of what it was,” he said. “Teenagers obviously are going to be fairly tight-lipped about what happened.”

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In the meantime, colleagues from around the province have been phoning the department asking whether fentanyl has tainted the cannabis supply, he said.

“It’s clear that this incident has caused a great deal of concern about cannabis as a substance,” Insp. Maher stated. “It’s in everybody’s best interest provincially, not just here, to find out what it was."

Authorities in a number of jurisdictions across North America, including Vancouver in 2015, have had to correct similar claims about fentanyl-tainted cannabis in recent years after being challenged by experts or the news media.

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The synthetic opioid has been found contaminating the illicit heroin supply in both the United States and Canada and, to a lesser extent, cocaine and methamphetamine. And while individual users could possibly be adding the opioid to their own cannabis, there are no credible reports of this happening on a widespread scale, according to experts.

Earlier this year, the U.S. federal opioids czar Kellyanne Conway twice parroted a debunked claim on opioid-laced pot that traced back to a Vancouver police press release put out four years ago.

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