SUDBURY -- Health officials in Greater Sudbury have issued a drug warning after an increase in suspected opioid-related overdoses.

Public Health Sudbury & Districts say highly potent substances are circulating in the city. They're also warning people to be careful about what they consume, given that some street drugs are being cut with fentanyl or carfentanil.

"The goal of these alerts is to be able to notify the community that there may be extra safety precautions that maybe there is information that they're not aware of, we just want them to take extra precautions to increase their safety," said public health nurse, Josée Joliet.

Experts say Greater Sudbury, and this part of northern Ontario in particular has some of the highest overdose rates in the nation.

It's something Suzanne Rivard knows all too well.  Just over a year ago she lost her 46-year-old son 'Johnny' to a fentanyl overdose.

"All I can say was I was in a fog and all I kept saying was 'I don't know what to do, I don't know what to do, you can't believe this is actually happening," said Rivard upon learning her son had passed away.

She describes him as a bright, intelligent, young man who had a passion for movies and the arts.

He was the son that made any mother proud and was even studying medicine when he began to have issues with mental illness.

"He was a musician, he wrote his own music, he wrote lyrics and he played the guitar and he was an artist," she said.

"He was very creative, a very tender soul. He loved psychology …. he was my best friend."

But he then started down a more difficult road and began to self-medicate with alcohol and then crack-cocaine. Rivard says he was a completely different person.

"He told me that he only tried it once and became completely addicted to it, he couldn't give it up...He tried different ways and yet he didn't want to go into treatment for it," she said.

For Rivard, it was a personal struggle in trying to help him, the more money she would give him the more drugs he would consume.

"Unfortunately, I had rehearsed this in my mind that maybe someday the police would come to my door knocking but because I had been called a few times, he had been arrested for different things, so yeah a year and a half ago, August 16th, they came knocking on my door and police came in, asked me about him and I knew right away they were going to tell me that he was gone," she said.

Six months later, she got the results from the toxicology report and discovered he had died from an accidental fentanyl overdose. She believes the drugs he was taking were cut with the toxic opioid.

"There are bad drugs out on the street and you don't know what you're getting when you buy drugs," said Rivard.

"These people need help, we need to do something about that."

Addiction physician Dr. Mike Franklyn says the crisis is real and one that deserves everyone's attention.

"This is something that we've been seeing for the last 4 years now, this started west and moved its way east across the country," said Franklyn.

"There are no safe drugs out there anymore. There used to be at least pharmaceutical drugs but now many, both street drugs and what people think are legitimate pharmaceuticals, are cut with fentanyl."

Franklyn says that's the real fear for experts; is that many people no longer know what they are taking and they're now dying on the first try.

"We're seeing a whole new level of addiction, these drugs are so potent, so powerful that the tools that used to be highly successful, now we have to struggle to get them to work to get control of the addiction," he said.

The public alert comes amid recent drug busts in which the Greater Sudbury Police Service have seized large amounts of suspected drugs like methamphetamine.

"The big thing that we're seeing is fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine – this is about being aware of what you put into your body. When you're not sure, take a lower dose and avoid switching substances," said CID Inspector Dan Despatie, of the Greater Sudbury Police Service.

Public Health Sudbury & Districts have listed recommendations on their website.