Windsor-Essex in crisis with 40 opioid-related deaths in 2015, says health unit

The number of opioid-related deaths in Windsor-Essex increased by almost 190 per cent over eight years and was more than double the provincial average in 2015.

The rate of opioid-related deaths in the region increased by 189.2 per cent in eight years

Health officials say Windsor and Essex County are dealing with an opioid crisis as overdoses skyrocket. 0:18

The skyrocketing number of opioid-related deaths in Windsor-Essex is a crisis that needs immediate attention, say officials from the region's health unit. 

Overdose deaths linked to opioids shot up by almost 190 per cent over eight years to a level more than double the provincial average in 2015, according to the latest figures released Thursday.

"We are working with our community partners on a strategy to come up with strong recommendations to deal with the opioid crisis we have in our community," said Dr. Wajid Ahmed, associate medical officer of health for the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit.

The newly released numbers were revealed in an Opioid Misuse in Windsor-Essex County Report, which analyzed statistics from emergency department visits and hospital admissions.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid painkiller, is estimated to be around 50 to 100 times more toxic than morphine. (CBC)

The figures also include people who used codeine, fentanyl, heroin, hydromorphone, methadone, morphine and oxycodone.

Opioids were given to 27,984 people in Windsor-Essex through the Ontario Drug Benefit in 2015, according to the report.

43 Windsor-Essex opioid users died in 2015

The increasing numbers were alarming enough for the health unit to start work on a opioid strategy in December. The process has been slow, explained Dr. Ahmed, but officials want to have a thorough plan in place.

"We want to make sure we have a comprehensive strategy and we're not just trying to fix the problem ... by putting on band-aids," he told CBC News.

A heat map shows the density of opioid-related emergency department visits in Windsor and Leamington based on patient's postal codes (Windsor-Essex County Health Unit)

The Windsor area is home to 18.9 per cent more opioid users than the provincial average, placing the region seventh highest in terms of opioid users in Ontario.

Emergency departments in Windsor-Essex saw 382 opioid-related visits in 2015, with men aged 20-44 making up nearly half of the patients.

Statistics from the report show the greatest density of opioid users were in the downtown cores of Windsor and Leamington.

Nineteen people in Windsor died after using opioids in Windsor in 2015 and 24 died in Essex County.

LaSalle drug forum discussed fentanyl

LaSalle police warned opioid drug use among teens had become an epidemic during a public forum Tuesday night.

Const. Al Gibson, who has been on the force for two decades, said he hadn't seen officers arrest young people under the Mental Health Act until a few years ago. Now such arrests are common.

"They are now using the likes of prescription pills, fentanyl — we're getting into deep problems with meth — and it just seems to be a growing epidemic within the younger generation," he said.