Overdose Prevention and Response

Opioids are drugs that include prescribed pain relievers but also illegal drugs. Patients can benefit from opioids that are prescribed and used properly. When opioids are misused, they can lead to overdose and can be deadly.

Highly toxic opioids like fentanyl may be put in illegally produced (illicit) drugs and consumed unknowingly, leading to overdose. Often, opioid-related overdoses occur when a person unknowingly consumes more opioids than their body can handle. This slows a person’s breathing, and can lead to unconsciousness and even death.

Across Canada, there have been 42,494 opioid-related deaths between January 2016 and September 2023 – most of which involved fentanyl. In PEI, opioid-related overdoses are on the rise.

Fentanyl, fentanyl analogues (like carfentanil), and other toxic substances are circulating in PEI’s illicit drug supply. Fentanyl is 20-40 times more toxic than heroin, and 100 times more toxic than morphine. Carfentanil is 100 times more toxic than fentanyl. This makes the risk of accidental overdose very high.

Reduce your risk

What are risk factors for drug-related overdose?

  • Taking prescription opioids more often or at higher doses than recommended
  • Taking opioids with alcohol or sedatives (benzodiazepines, sleeping pills)
  • Consuming drugs after a period of reduced or no drug use
  • Consuming illicit, street-sourced drugs
  • Consuming drugs alone
  • Injecting or smoking drugs

Often, illicit drugs do not match the expected drug, and contain synthetic drugs like fentanyl and/or carfentanil – which can be fatal in very small amounts. This applies to illicit opioids, stimulants (cocaine, meth, crack), and other drugs in any form (pill, powder, crystal, etc.).

How to reduce overdose risk?

For people who use drugs: 

  • Do not use drugs alone. Call or text NORS or Brave for remote supervised consumption
  • Have a naloxone kit and know how to use it
  • Start with a test dose. Start low, go slow
  • Test your drugs using take-home test strips or through a drug checking service
  • Avoid using drugs with other substances like alcohol or benzodiazepines

Signs of overdose

  • Signs of opioid-related overdose include:

  • Difficulty walking, talking or staying awake
  • Not moving or can’t be woken
  • Slow or no breathing
  • Blue or grey lips or nails
  • Choking, gurgling or snoring sounds
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Very small pupils

Overdose response

If you suspect an overdose:

  • Stimulate – shout their name, tap their shoulders
  • Call 911 right away
    • The Canadian Good Samaritan law protects people from being charged for simple drug possession
    • Call 911 even if naloxone is used. The effects of opioids last longer than the effect of naloxone
  • Give naloxone (instructions are included in each naloxone).
  • Start rescue breaths and/or chest compressions (a CPR breathing mask is in each naloxone kit)
  • Evaluate if the person is breathing and responsive
  • If not, give another dose of naloxone
  • Stay with the person until emergency responders arrive

Where can I get a naloxone kit?

Naloxone (Narcan) is a fast-acting medication used to temporarily reverse an opioid overdose. Free naloxone kits are available at several locations across PEI through the Take Home Naloxone Program.

Where can I seek help?

If you or someone you know needs help with substance use, options include (but are not limited to):

Opioid-related harms in PEI

Data on opioid-related harms in PEI are publicly available online and updated quarterly. This information helps inform program planning and identify any increases in opioid-related harms, including overdoses and deaths.

Drug checking services

Drug checking services help prevent overdoses and allow for a better understanding of what is in PEI’s illicit drug supply by identifying toxic substance like fentanyl, fentanyl analogues, and other high-risk substances. Anonymous results from drug checking services will be publicly available online and updated regularly.

Taking action

Drug overdose deaths are preventable. The provincial government has developed an action plan to prevent and mitigate unintentional opioid overdoses and deaths among youth and adults in Prince Edward Island.


Published date: 
June 6, 2024