Windsor service providers heartbroken by continued devastation of opioid crisis

Last week, health officials issued an alert after a spike in overdoses that required emergency care. It was the third time so far this year that such an alert was issued.

Pandemic has exacerbated the struggle say experts

Windsor-Essex health officials have issued three overdose alerts so far in 2021. (CBC)

Windsor-Essex residents continue to struggle with opioid overdoses, a crisis officials say the pandemic has only made worse.

Patrick Kolowicz, the director of mental health and addictions at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, said COVID-19 has negatively impacted those with addictions because of its impact on many facets of our lives, such as finances and social interaction.

"These have all negatively affected those with substance use disorder, and potentially created new addiction for people," he said.

Last week, Windsor-Essex health officials issued an alert after a spike in overdoses that required emergency care. It was the third time so far this year that such an alert was issued.

And the number of people dying from drug overdoses has been steadily rising for years.

"In 2020, we feel that based on the data that we could see a 40 per cent increase in the number of overdoses resulting in death, the numbers still have yet to be confirmed, they have to go through the coroner and what not, but it seems like the magnitude of loss is just unbearable out there," Kolowicz said.

He was referencing the findings of a report from the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network published last fall. The researchers estimated that opioid deaths in the province could hit a record high in 2020. Frequently, those who died had been using drugs alone.

Locally, there were 30 emergency-room visits due to opioid overdoses in January.

Forty-seven people in Windsor-Essex lost their lives to opioid overdoses in 2019, the latest year statistics were available on the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit website.

'Heartbreaking,' 'frustrating' to see community continue to struggle

"It continues to be incredibly heartbreaking and frustrating as a service provider," said Michael Brennan, executive director of Pozitive Pathways Community Service — an organization focused on advocacy, support and harm reduction. 

He said it's frustrating to talk to people with substance abuse disorders and hear about how the pandemic has exacerbated their mental health struggles, created barriers for them with housing or impacted their social determinants of health. 

Michael Brennan, executive director of Pozitive Pathways Community Service, says it's difficult to see the many ways people are struggling, specifically during the pandemic. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

At the same time, he says he does see the work that has been happening within the community such as increased education around using substances, more naloxone distribution, advocacy around decriminalizing drug use and the push for more care and treatment strategies. 

"We've come a long way from where we've been but we still have a long ways to go," he said. 

An alert was issued March 16 following 27 overdose-related emergency department visits in Windsor between March 9 and March 15. Past

Theresa Marentette, CEO and chief nursing officer of WECHU, said last week that the rate of overdoses is higher compared to the past five years during this time of the year. She noted that factors such as changes in drug supply and more people using drugs alone may be at play.  

She encourages people in the community to reach out to those who are vulnerable and ensuring they have access to naloxone as the city works toward establishing a safe injection site.

If you need help, mental health services are available through Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare.

The Community Crisis Centre can be reached at 519-973-4435.


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