OWEN SOUND, ONT. -- Grey Bruce Public Health (GBPH) issued an Opioid Alert after a cluster of non-fatal overdoses.

"Just in the past five days, we've had at least six non-fatal overdoses. Over the past two weeks, we've also seen two fatal overdoses as well here in Grey Bruce," said GBPH public manager Ian Reich.

The health unit reports at least eight other fatal overdoses so far this year. In comparison, COVID-19 claimed five lives in the region. In 2020, 23 Grey Bruce residents died of overdoses.

Fentanyl and carfentanil are believed to be involved in the fatal overdoses.

Reich said all of its harm reduction programs have operated throughout the pandemic, but drug use and the deadly consequences continue to tick upward.

"We are definitely seeing a potential connection to COVID restrictions and increase in substance use, and as more people use substances, the more chance of a fatality increase as more people use," Reich said.

The Opioid Alert is a warning that street drugs should be considered highly toxic and potentially lethal.

Public health urges users to avoid doing drugs alone and call the Overdose Prevention Line at 1-888-688-6677 if using alone is the only option.

The health unit encourages calling 911 in the event of an overdose. The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act protects from simple possession charges when the emergency line is called for an overdose.

Additionally, naloxone, a medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, is available at the GBHU on weekdays with no appointment necessary.