Kitchener-Waterloo

Overdose deaths double in Guelph, compared to 2019

The number of overdose deaths in Guelph has reached a grim milestone; so far in 2020 the number is double the total from all of 2019, says Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health.

There have been 14 deaths this year in Guelph, compared to 7 in 2019

Fourteen people have died from opioid-related overdoses in Guelph so far this year. Last year, seven people in the city succumbed to fatal overdoses. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The number of opioid-related overdose deaths in Guelph 2020 has doubled over 2019, with still more than five months remaining in the year. 

In 2019, seven people died from overdoses in Guelph, according to Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health.

In 2020, there have already been 14 such deaths, the health unit said.

"[It] is a very tragic trend," said Adrienne Crowder, Wellington Guelph Drug Strategy manager.

Crowder said a tainted drug supply, also noted in Toronto, may be driving some of the rise in overdose deaths. She said staffers at drug testing sites in the city have been "shocked" by the toxicity of the substances they've encountered since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Over the weekend, provincial police also issued a renewed public warning after investigating two suspected opioid-related deaths in Wellington County in less than 24 hours. 

OPP say officers in the West Region, which stretches from Essex County up to the Bruce Peninsula, responded to 52 suspected opioid overdoses, including 13 deaths, in the first four months of this year. 

"In Guelph, and unfortunately every other major city, the toxicity of the drug supply has gotten noticeably worse," Crowder said.

"It's time, we need to do something different, so people don't lose their lives because they're struggling with addiction."

Addiction isn't a crime, police chiefs say

In Waterloo region, there have been 46 overdose deaths so far in 2020. That number is equal to the same period last year, although if numbers continue to increase over the summer, the number of overdose deaths could track higher in 2020, said Grace Bermingham, harm reduction manager with Region of Waterloo Public Health.  

"Overdose death is preventable and the loss of life represented by these numbers is incredibly tragic and concerning," said Bermingham. 

Crowder said she was heartened to see the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police issue a call last week to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs, and to recognize addiction as a public health issue.

Now, she said, it's up to the government to begin the delicate process of moving funds away from the criminal justice and policing sector, and toward mental health care.

"The transition needs to happen in a way that allows one side to ramp up, while the other side is ramping down, because people are seeking help right now," she said.

"There are not enough resources for the number of people who would need them."

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