Five suspected drug overdoses within a five day period has prompted another public safety alert in Waterloo region.

Emergency officials responded to the incidents between April 1 and April 5.

One of those suspected overdose deaths was related to red-coloured fentanyl, says the Waterloo Region Integrated Drug Strategy group.

In response, they issued an overdose warning for drug users advising them not to use alone, and to always have a naloxone kit on hand if using opioids.

“It’s really saddening and really frustrating because we know there are solutions that will prevent those deaths and those solutions remain ignored by really every level of government right across Canada,” said Michael Parkinson, a local drug strategy specialist.

He feels overdoses aren’t being treated the same as other public health emergencies.

“If this was a food poisoning outbreak and five people had passed away from contaminated chicken or contaminated lettuce, we would see a rapid deployment of resources to ensure that the supply is safe.”

Andy Hathaway is a professor of sociology at the University of Guelph and studies illicit drug use and Canadian drug policy.

“It’s a crisis in the way that mass shootings is a crisis in the United States,” he said. “It’s been happening for a long time but very few seem prepared to want to do much about it.”

Both Hathaway and Parkinson said public health is being impacted by politics and criminal justice.

“I can point to 42 people without homes locally, that we did research with,” said Parkinson. “We spent more than $1 million each incarcerating those people, and for what? They come right back out and the cycle starts all over again.”

There have been 13 suspected overdose deaths reported by Waterloo regional police since March 3.

That’s similar tothe same period in 2021, which was a record year, with a total of 112 opioid-related deaths in Waterloo region.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, deaths have been on the rise.

“That’s really an indication of all the bad things that are happening in people’s lives, which suggests that they need support and arresting them, imprisoning them, separating them from their families, that’s been proven time and time again to not be particularly effective strategy,” said Hathaway.