Neighbours of a man who lived in home where three people were found dead were horrified Wednesday, describing him as once a hard-working business owner.
Police discovered the bodies of two women and a man in the home in the Inkster Gardens area in an apparent triple drug overdose.
An unidentified white powder and drug paraphernalia were also found, police said Wednesday, adding they believe the substance is the synthetic opioid fentanyl.
"This type of incident is now on everybody's minds," Const. Rob Carver said, referring to police officers and paramedics. "It's changed the landscape in how we work."
When officers were called to the address to check on the well-being of a resident living in the 100 block of Petriw Bay just after midnight, they saw an unresponsive man inside the home through a window and forced their way inside.
Police didn't say how much powder was found, just that "It was enough that it was obvious to our officers when they showed up. The drug is incredibly toxic. Essentially, almost invisible amounts are enough to be toxic," Carver said.
The deceased are all under the age of 40.
Neighbours who've lived on the street for years said the man who lived in the home was known as "Mikey".
"He was a very nice boy," said Paul Gingras who heard the news from the young man's father. "They're taking it very hard," he said of the man's parents. "He's their kid. It's awful," said Gingras who has lived on Petriw Bay for 21 years.
"He was a hard worker," said another long-time neighbour who didn't want to identify "Mikey" or his parents. He said he had a landscaping and snow removal business and worked at it seven days a week for a time. He wasn't sure what happened to him. "I guess he met the wrong people."
Another neighbour with two children said she was alarmed to find out what happened at the nearby home.
"It's crazy," said the woman, who asked not to be identified. She said she and her husband will talk with their kids about the deadly hazards of experimenting with drugs.
"It can happen to anybody," said Gingras. With lethal drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil in Winnipeg, a first-timer user could end up dead. "The police can only do so much," he said.
Another neighbour said Wednesday that it wasn't the first time police had been called to that address. There was a police "raid" there earlier this fall, said the man who asked not to be identified. He said he called 311 more than once to complain about noise from the use of power tools there in the middle of the night.
"There's lots of stories here," he said. The bungalow had cameras watching the front and back of the house. "People were coming and going all the time and everyone knew it." He said he was afraid of what could happen and spoke to other residents of the bay about getting together to raise their concerns about activity at the house.
"People have got kids and it doesn't seem like anyone wants to do anything," he said. "There's the results," said the man, pointing in the direction of the house where three bodies had just been removed.
"It's just unbelievable," he said. "He was a very smart man. He used to be in the lawn care and snow-removal business till about five years ago then things went south." He'd moved in around seven or eight years ago and appeared to live alone. "He was a mellow kind of guy."
The neighbour said he had lots of visitors and sometimes he'd ask him to turn down the stereo and Mikey would comply. They still were on neighbourly terms and said "hi" to each other in passing.
"I'm kind of upset," he said Wednesday, as body bags that appeared to be lathered with sudsy cleanser were removed from the home by emergency workers in haz-mat suits. "Three people died. It is sad."
Overdoses and deaths resulting from opioid abuse are being called an epidemic across the country. A national summit on the problem is taking place in Ottawa Friday.
The synthetic opioid fentanyl is, according to experts, 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Carfentanil, another drug used by veterinarians tending to large animals and sometimes prescribed to control cancer patients' pain, has been described as 100 times more powerful than fentanyl.
Carfentanil has begun appearing in Winnipeg as a street drug, and was identified as the cause of a near-tragedy last month when a nine-month-old baby in the North End was rushed to hospital in dire medical condition. The child has since recovered.
"It's been an incredibly dramatic increase (in drug overdoses)," Carver said. "We've seen numbers significantly higher in the summer and through the fall."
Carver added police visited the Petriw Bay home in the last month, but wouldn't provide further details.
He said protocols are being developed to help deal with the spike in overdoses, including purchasing equipment such as masks and training emergency responders to use them. Fentanyl and carfentanil are so dangerous that traces on the skin can lead to medical distress, which is what is believed to have occurred in the baby's case in October.
"Significant changes are coming, in terms of policy, protocols, operational strategies," for the protection for first responders, Carver said.
"We can't just come up with a half-baked solution," Carver said. "It's a complex solution. "
The investigation is ongoing.
-with file from Bill Redekop