Pubdate: Fri, 29 Jan 2016
Source: Beacon Herald, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 Osprey Media Group Inc.
Author: Steve Rice
Page: A1


Stratford has so far not seen opiate-related deaths or overdoses

Police and first responders in Stratford have yet to see an increase
in opiate-related overdoses, but "it's out there all around us."

Over the past few days, there have been at least a half-dozen
overdoses involving opiates in neighbouring regions, two of them fatal.

On Monday, a 32-year-old Norwich woman was found dead and a
33-year-old man from the same community was charged with criminal
negligence causing death and trafficking fentanyl, a powerful
synthetic opiate often prescribed to people suffering severe or
chronic pain.

Over a four-day period through this past weekend, there were six
reported overdoses in the Kitchener and Cambridge area, one of them
fatal. Heroin is suspected in five of those cases and fentanyl in the

Illicit use of fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more potent than
morphine, has been blamed for 655 deaths across Canada between 2009
and 2014, a figure that is likely an underestimate.

"It's a serious issue across Ontario and we're taking proactive steps
to combat the illicit use of fentanyl patches and any prescription
drugs," said Stratford acting police Chief Mike Bellai. "For us, it's
important to do proactive work and get the message out there and curb
it any way we can. Proactive steps are as important as

Two Stratford officers are currently working on a patch-for-patch
program they hope to have up and running in a few weeks. People who
have been prescribed fentanyl will need to return the used patches
before being given a refill.

"Hopefully that cuts down on abuse issues," said Bellai, noting the
patches are sometimes stolen or trafficked, which is a primary focus
for law enforcement.

As for overdoses, Bellai said he hasn't seen any increases locally,
and that's confirmed by Cliff Eggleton, the Perth County EMS
operations manager.

"We have the odd overdose that's a mix of a lot of different street
drugs or prescription drugs, but we haven't recently had any of these
fentanyl overdoses," said Eggleton. "But it's all out there right
around us. It's next door and obviously any users here have similar

For the past year, local paramedics have been carrying naloxone, a
kind of opiate antidote that can be injected or sprayed into the nose,
reviving a person and restarting their breathing.

By June of this year, the Perth District Health Unit hopes to have a
naloxone program where users will be issued kits and given training,
similar to what health units in nearby areas are already doing. "It's
helping first responders because if we arrive and they've used their
kit, they're brought around," said Eggleton. "It saves a lot of lives.
But if the person is using alone that's a problem. If they don't have
a buddy to either call 911 or administer the naloxone, that's pretty
much the end for them."

As such, emergency services and drug awareness programs are trying to
spread the word about not using powerful opiates while alone, to use
only a little at first and to avoid mixing drugs.

In the wake of the incidents in Kitchener and Cambridge, the
coordinator of the Waterloo Region Integrated Drugs Strategy, Paul
Gregory, issued a warning and said, "the wave's just hit."

That wave has come from the west where overdoses from fentanyl and
tainted drugs saw a spike in British Columbia through the past year,
with an estimated 139 fatal fentanyl overdoses in that province in

Bellai said that while fentanyl is certainly a concern to local
police, "we worry about all illicit drugs and abuse and trafficking of
prescription drugs."

Since the establishment of a methamphetamine task force and street
crime unit, Bellai said police have been successful in pushing meth
labs out of the city for the past decade. However meth is "still
unfortunately a preferred drug in this area for those who choose to
use it," and police continue to make seizures.

He believes educating young people through the police community
services officer and high school resource officer, is a key strategy.

"We have to get the messages out there about the dangers of using
these drugs - the cold, hard facts of what it does to you physically
and mentally if you choose to use them," he said.