Sudbury

Sudbury area continues to deal with an increase in opioid overdoses and deaths

Sudbury’s Community Drug Strategy is reporting an increase in opioid overdoses and deaths in 2021.

Sudbury, Timmins hope to set up supervised consumption sites this year

Both Sudbury and Timmins are waiting for approval from higher levels of government to open safe consumption sites. (CBC)

Sudbury's Community Drug Strategy is reporting an increase in opioid overdoses and deaths in 2021 in the area.

The group said there has been an increase in paramedics responding to suspected opioid-related incidents, more emergency department visits for overdoses and more overdoses and deaths.

Between January 2021 and November 2021, the group reported the following:

  • Paramedics responding to 797 suspected opioid-related incidents, up from 570 in the same period in 2020.
  • There were 523 visits to the emergency department at Health Sciences North for suspected accidental overdoses, up from 504 visits in the same period in 2020.

Between January 2021 and September 2021, the group reported:

  • A total of 54 deaths in the Sudbury and Manitoulin districts from opioid-related overdoses, up from 44 deaths in the same period in 2020.
  • In that time period, 24,260 doses of naloxone were distributed in the district, up from 19,880 doses distributed in the same period in 2020.

Josée Joliat is coordinator of the drug strategy and a public health nurse with Public Health Sudbury and Districts.

"I think these numbers just further confirm what we know is happening in our community," she said.

Joliat said there are lots of reasons for the increases.

"We know as well our illicit drug supply continues to be unpredictable and toxic which is putting people at risk," she said.

She added the pandemic isn't helping the situation, as people who use drugs are usually encouraged not to do so alone, but public health rules state you should limit your contacts.

Supervised consumption site

Groups in both Sudbury and Timmins are working to set up supervised consumption sites in those communities.

In Sudbury, that effort is being led by Réseau Access Network, with support from public health.

Joliat said they're waiting on final approval from both the provincial and federal governments. 

She acknowledged that a safe consumption site won't fix the problem.

"But what these services have shown, the benefits shown in other communities, is of course a reduction in overdoses, overdoses leading to death as well," she said.

"We've also seen that these services are a really great point of contact for people to get either into health or social services."

She said other benefits include a decrease in public use of substances and a decrease in used syringes.

"Those are things we're hoping we'll see in our community but we'll have to wait until these services are up and running to see exactly how it's going to impact Greater Sudbury," she said.

In Timmins, the hospital has applied to Health Canada to operate an urgent public health needs site. It would allow people to use drugs in a safe place, with medical staff on site.

Patrick Nowak, a registered nurse and manager of the addictions program a the Timmins and District Hospital, said hospital staff witness daily the impact of the opioid crisis on the community.

"We see it through the emergency department especially," he said. 

"I mean, it wasn't too often where you'd see something like this going back even five or 10 years ago, and now we see opioid-related incidents come through the hospital at a pretty alarming rate."

If approved, the hospital would manage daily operations of the site.

Tina Brunet, a public health nurse at the Porcupine Health Unit and a program coordinator in the area of harm reduction, said such a facility could save lives.

"It's more than just saving their life in the moment, it's actually about building that trusting relationship, and being able to connect them to those withdrawal management, treatment services, social services, including housing, basic needs," she said.

"It really can act as a hub to be able to start those conversations, but you need a safe place to be able to do that."

With files from Sarah MacMillan

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