Pubdate: Fri, 29 Jan 2016 Source: Beacon Herald, The (CN ON) Copyright: 2016 Osprey Media Group Inc. Contact: http://www.stratfordbeaconherald.com/letters Website: http://www.stratfordbeaconherald.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/1459 Author: Steve Rice Page: A1 SPIKE OF OVERDOSES IN REGION 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 other. 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 enforcement." 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 suppliers." 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 2015. 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.