Kitchener-Waterloo

Region's public health department calls for 'real time' information on drug use

The Region of Waterloo Public Health Department wants real time information that monitors opioid use and, in particular, overdoses.

Current statistics are outdated, official says

Fentanyl, pictured here, is growing in popularity in the region's drug scene. (Calgary Police Service)

The Region of Waterloo Public Health Department wants access to real time information when it comes to monitoring and surveillance of opioid use, and in particular, overdoses.

Right now, region health officials can access numbers from 2014, and the data from 2015 won't be available until later this year or possibly next year.

That's a problem for Chris Harold, the manager of information and planning with the region's health department.

"We often can't tell challenges or problems sweeping through the community until well after the fact," Harold told CBC's The Morning Edition.

"So in many cases ... we won't know the roll or if the number of deaths related to drug overdoses in particular opioids is increasing until well after the fact. This consistent, real time monitoring will help us give more relevant information so we can respond in a timely manner."

Fentanyl warning issued in the region

The latest drug of choice and concern for officials is fentanyl. 

"We are aware that fentanyl is in the community ... police issued an alert that fentanyl was present in the local drug supply in March," Harold said.

The synthetic opiod narcotic, which is used as a painkiller, comes in pills or patches. The drugs being picked up by officers on the streets include both prescriptions and bootleg versions.

Local drug users share information

Currently in British Columbia, provincial health officials have more power to collect real time information after the provincial health office issued an alert with the increasing number of drug related deaths.

We often can't tell challenges or problems sweeping through the community until well after the fact.- Chris Harold, Region of Waterloo Public Health Department

In Waterloo region, the public health department gets its information from the streets. They are collecting information from their clients in terms of what substances they're using and finding out whether any new drugs are on the street. Public health shares that information with partners in the community including police, the Waterloo Region Integrated Drugs Strategy and the Crime Prevention Council. 

Harold is hopeful the federal and provincial governments will consider their request to develop a real time reporting system and provide funding to help the region compile the data.

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