Experts concerned substance users might be avoiding care due to COVID-19 pandemic

Experts in Windsor say they're concerned substance users could be avoiding seeking treatment, as well as using alone more frequently, due to current physical distancing rules. 

Physical distancing, isolation could also contribute to increase in substance use

In addition to avoiding emergency departments, experts says physical distancing could be encouraging people to use substances alone (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Health experts in Windsor are concerned people using opioids could be avoiding seeking help due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

During Thursday's daily coronavirus briefing, Windsor-Essex County Health Unit Medical Officer of Health Dr. Wajid Ahmed announced a spike of 18 overdose-related emergency department visits between May 12 and May 18. Of that number, nine visits took place on May 16. 

Fentanyl was detected in 12 of the 18 overdoses, according to Ahmed.

Rob Moroz, director of specialized mental health at Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, said he believes people may be avoiding visiting emergency departments in fear of contracting or spreading the virus.

Rob Moroz is with Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare and the Canadian Mental Health Association recently opened an urgent care centre to support people living with mental health and addiction issues. 

Moroz said one of the initial reasons for the facility was people dealing with those concerns a place to seek help — even during a pandemic. 

"A lot of people that have been to this centre have been saying that they wouldn't have gone to the ER, they felt more comfortable coming here," Moroz said. "I think what we have to do is make sure that things are accessible and that people can readily get treatment when they want it on their own terms."

Brandon Bailey, with the Windsor Overdose Prevention Society, said he's concerned more people could be using hard drugs on their own with current isolation restrictions.

Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare and the Canadian Mental Health Association teamed up to launch this facility, aimed at providing care to people living with mental health and substance use concerns. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"People use more when … they feel alone, when they feel lonely, when they feel bored, when they're by themselves," he said. "It's something to do to pass time with something to do to escape those feelings of pain or the trauma that people are going through."

Ahmed made similar comments during Thursday morning's briefing, saying  "stress, anxiety and self-isolation can have a negative impact on substance abuse issues."

In order to ensure people can use substances in a safe place, Bailey said the city is overdue for an overdose prevention site — like the one his group is working on finalizing with Health Canada and Windsor Police.

"Right now, there's no overdose prevention site in the city, so people are having to go back to wherever they're using and they're having to use alone," Bailey said. "It's not safe to use alone. Always have a buddy system."

Brandon Bailey is with the Windsor Overdose Prevention Society. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

And despite physical distancing rules, and the province's emergency order banning gathering of more than five people in a single space, Bailey said his organization has taken steps to provide personal connections and supervision for people who are using substances in the city. 

"We also have a Zoom line setup that, if people are going to use, they can contact us and then we will sit on Zoom with them while they use," he said. 

"Then we're able to see the difference between if somebody is nodding off from their opiate use, or if they're actually going into an overdose." 

With files from Jacob Barker