Opioid overdoses, deaths in Peterborough prompt calls for more help from province

A spike in opioid overdoses and deaths in Peterborough, Ont., is prompting a call for the Ford government to do more to tackle the crisis.

Over the first weekend in June, police responded to 19 drug overdoses, which resulted in two deaths over a 72-hour period.

A veteran of the Peterborough Police Service says he hasn’t seen anything like it in his 33 years of policing,

“There’s nothing bigger in policing that I’ve ever come across than the opioid crisis, specifically fentanyl,” said Deputy Chief Timothy Farquharson.

The front lines

Farquharson said police support a supervised injection site in the city as one way to tackle the problem, which the harm reduction arm of AIDS resource network PARN is working on.

Christian Harvey, director of Warming Room Community Ministries, which oversees supportive housing programs in Peterborough, said his centre alone has seen a huge spike.

Before last June, there were no overdoses in their spaces at all. Since then, the shelter and drop-in centre has seen more than 50.

“It’s terrifying,” he said.

“Those of us working on the front lines are feeling left alone.”

Provincial strategy

Harvey said the province isn’t doing enough to address the epidemic. He and community partners are calling for a more cohesive province-wide strategy, including rules around better prescribing and integrated health services.

The province said it is working on a “connected” system, citing plans to create a Mental Health and Addictions Centre of Excellence within the newly-created Ontario Health.

“Our government is also taking a cross-government approach … with investments in community mental health, justice services, supportive housing, and acute mental health inpatient beds,” said Hayley Chazan, spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott.

Chazan said the province is also working with the health advisory body Health Quality Ontario on training programs for “providers focused on appropriate pain management and opioid prescribing.”

‘Defining health crisis of our time’

Opposition leader Andrea Horwath, who discussed the problem with city officials in a visit Monday, said more needs to happen faster.

“People are literally dying on the street,” she said.

In March, the province announced its overdose prevention strategy, announcing it would continue funding 15 supervised injection sites:

  • 6 in Toronto.
  • 1 each in London, Hamilton, Kingston, St. Catharines and Thunder Bay.
  • 3 of 4 operating sites in Ottawa.

The number of sites in the province is capped at 21.

“People are feeling hopeless,” said Harvey.

On Monday, the Toronto Board of Health voted to urge the province to lift the cap on injection sites and increase funding for them. It also called on the federal government to increase its support of local services.

“It is what I would characterize as the defining health crisis of our time,” said Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health.

Public Health Ontario released the latest statistics on opioid overdose deaths in the province. Here are the numbers:

  • 629 from January to June 2018.
  • 1,261 in 2017.
  • 867 in 2016.

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