Sudbury

Sudbury's memorial crosses help OMA highlight impacts opioid crisis has had on north

A growing memorial dedicated to victims of the opioid crisis in Sudbury has caught the attention of doctors at the Ontario Medical Association. The OMA's president was in the city Sunday to meet with the creator of the Crosses for Change site.

OMA president Adam Kassam says memorial 'speaks volumes and highlights the ever-growing nature of the crisis'

During their visit to Sudbury, Ontario Medical Association CEO Allan O'Dette, centre, and president Dr. Adam Kassam, right, met with Denise Sandul, the creator of the Crosses for Change site in Sudbury. Each cross represents individuals who have died of drug overdose. (Angela Gemmill/CBC)

The Crosses for Change site in downtown Sudbury has now grown to 214 white crosses.

The memorial to victims of the opioid crisis has caught the attention of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA).

President Dr. Adam Kassam was in the city Sunday to speak with the creator of the memorial site, Denise Sandul.

Sandul erected one white cross at this time last year to honour her son Myles Keaney, who died of a drug overdose a few weeks before.

Since then, the memorial has grown, with each new cross representing another victim of the opioid crisis.

"And I thought if we got 10, 15 crosses then maybe we would get the attention of the media or the community, that we have a problem; now we're up to 214 crosses and we continue to struggle to see change," she said. 

Kassam said the Sudbury memorial shows just how dire the opioid crisis has become.

"So the fact that not only did it start with one but it's grown to 200 and continues to grow every single day — that speaks volumes and it also just highlights the ever growing nature of the crisis," he said.

"The impact of this kind of crisis, this public health crisis on communities such as Sudbury is such an important thing to not only recognise, but ultimately do something about. That's why we're here. We want to focus on what we can do for the future."

He said the OMA will launch its health-care platform this week, and will include a focus on more mental health and addictions services.

Kassam said northern and rural communities in Ontario have been disproportionately impacted, including due to a shortage of health human resources like psychiatrists, family doctors and specialists.

In Ontario, the past year has been the worst on record for opioid deaths.

"The sheer impact that it's had on a community like Sudbury really moves anyone who I think has had a loved one or a friend or family member that's been affected by the mental health and addiction crisis," Kassam said.

Sandul, centre, with two of her three daughters, Brittney and Lindsey. Denise is the one who normally comes to the site to put up new crosses. On Sunday, she added five more. (Angela Gemmill/CBC)

While at the memorial on Sunday, Sandul was joined by two of her three daughters, Brittney and Lindsay Sandul.

"We never imagined that there would be this many crosses," Lindsay said.

Brittney described how when the family held her brother's visitation, more than 100 people attended to offer condolences.

"I look here and that's 214 people who have that many people grieving them," Brittney said, referring to the crosses at the Crosses for Change memorial. "I don't just 214 crosses, I see all the people standing behind each cross hurting over those people.

"This community has so many people who are hurting right now from the losses that we've had."

Several rows of white crosses with flowers.
There are now 214 white crosses at the Crosses for Change site on the corner of a busy intersection in downtown Sudbury. (Angela Gemmill/CBC)

Lindsay said her family saw some of the gaps in the system when it came to trying to get her brother help before his death. Some services were halted due to COVID-19, but she said there was also a lack of safe housing. Lindsay said day treatment was an option for him, but there wasn't an overnight treatment centre.

"Also a facility that was able to take on complex cases," she said, noting her brother had both mental health and addiction issues.

Denise said she is encouraged by the visit from the OMA, and is anxious to hear how it plans to help communities like Sudbury deal with the opioid crisis.

"It gets discouraging for me at times because you know it's going on 11 months now with the crosses, and I continue to see people die at an alarming rate," she said.

She said the memorial will keep growing as families share the names of loved ones lost to drugs.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Angela Gemmill

Journalist

Angela Gemmill is a CBC journalist who covers news in Sudbury and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter @AngelaGemmill. Send story ideas to angela.gemmill@cbc.ca

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