'It happens so often, we become numb': Windsor man on losing friends to opioids

The Downtown Mission in Windsor, Ont., hosted A Night to Remember, an event to pay tribute to those in the community who have died from an opioid overdose.

More overdose alerts in 2021 than ever before for Windsor-Essex in southwestern Ontario

Kevin Mooney uses the Downtown Mission services in Windsor, Ont., and says he knows many people who have died from opioid overdoses. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

Kevin Mooney can't count the number of people he's lost to an opioid overdose. 

"It happens so often, we become numb to it very quickly and that's sad," said Mooney, a client of the Downtown Mission in Windsor, Ont. 

Mooney was one of about 30 people who attended A Night to Remember, an event hosted by the Downtown Mission Monday evening that paid tribute to locals who have died from opioid overdoses.

"It's an everyday occurrence — every day we hear about somebody that overdosed the night before or early in the morning. Just before I got here, I heard about two," he said. 

The 40-year-old told CBC News he has been struggling with drug addiction, specifically to opioids, for about 20 years. 

"I was clean for a number of years, I was doing well," he said. "It's a vicious, vicious cycle that is hard to break." 

Mooney says it's not just people experiencing homelessness who use drugs; he's seen it himself. 

People gathered at the Downtown Mission on Monday evening to remember those who have died from an opioid overdose. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

"I've been in recovery with lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers, every walk of life, police officers, so I mean it affects everybody," he said. 

High number of overdose alerts issued this year 

Health professionals say the opioid epidemic worsened during the pandemic, both locally and across the country.

In 2020, the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario reported 63 opioid overdose deaths in Windsor-Essex. Data from the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) notes there were 346 opioid-related emergency department visits. 

Between January and March that year, there were 16 opioid-related deaths. 

According to preliminary data from Public Health Ontario, the first three months of 2021 saw nine deaths related to opioid overdoses. But this year, Windsor-Essex issued more overdose alerts than ever before — 11, as of mid-September.

The Downtown Mission says the use of naloxone — a drug that reverses an opioid overdose — has saved lives. Staff  reversed 88 opioid overdoses in 2020. 

While Mooney said it's good there's a drug that can save people, he said it's also "made it even easier" for people to brush aside the consequences of an overdose. 

In Windsor-Essex, 63 people died last year from opioid overdoses. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

"I've seen people out for 15 minutes, blue-grey they're gone, only for [naloxone] to kick in and boom they open their eyes and back to normal ... that is a dangerous thing because it takes the shock factor of an overdose away." 

'People are dying' 

During Monday's event, Downtown Mission staff asked people to call out the names of the people who have died.

"I think it's a powerful message that needed to happen," said Brittany Lavin, program co-ordinator and caseworker at the Downtown Mission. 

"Having those names called out really put some precedence and some importance that like these are human beings we're working with, it's not just a job for us, people are dying," she said. 

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit is still working on getting a consumption and treatment site for the region. There are two possible locations for the site in downtown Windsor. 

WECHU previously said they are looking to have a site confirmed by early fall 2021.