Pubdate: Thu, 26 Jan 2017
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Molly Hayes
Page: A1


Safe injection sites, stronger antidote expected to be discussed
during 'frank' discussion on growing crisis

For a long time, Chrissy Hawkins's drug of choice was

Hers was an addiction that started at age nine with doctor-prescribed
Valium and spiralled out of control throughout her adult life.

But today, at 62 years old, she is 13 years sober and a prolific
volunteer with outreach agencies including Elizabeth Fry, the Mental
Health Rights Coalition and public health's needle exchange van.

"I'm a productive member of society at this point - and that all
stemmed from my addiction," she says with a smile.

"You have to fill that (void) with something else, and for me, that
was volunteer work."

On Thursday, Hawkins will bring her addiction experience to an opioid
summit hosted by Mayor Fred Eisenberger in an effort to tackle the
public health crisis that is sweeping the country.

"I'm very vocal. I'm very passionate about it," she said. "I'm going
to have a lot to say."

Hawkins will join city councillors, public health staff, police, fire,
paramedics and representatives from local outreach agencies.

The goal - as Dr. Jessica Hopkins, Hamilton's associate medical
officer of health, puts it - is about "mobilizing key institutions to
better understand our collective challenges and opportunities to
effectively prevent and respond to increased overdoses."

The meeting will be closed to the public - including the media. The
city says this is because organizers want the agencies involved to
feel comfortable having a candid discussion about the opioid crisis
and the many unknowns surrounding the issue.

"This needs to be an opportunity for everyone to speak frankly,"
Eisenberger said.

Hamilton police Deputy Chief Dan Kinsella acknowledges there are
indeed many unknowns: "This is a complex problem - it's not an easy
one. If it was an easy one, we would have all fixed it by now."

A staggering 685 people are believed to have died from opioids in 2015
in Ontario alone - 19 of them in Hamilton.

We don't yet know what last year's death toll was - coroner data can
take years to come back - but experts are confident it is on the rise,
especially given the growing presence of fentanyl and carfentanil on
our streets.

Both bootleg fentanyl - a drug 1,000 times stronger than morphine -
and carfentanil - a drug 1,000 times stronger than fentanyl - have
been seized by police in Hamilton.

These drugs are so potent that just grains can be lethal.

One topic sure to come up at the summit is naloxone - an opioid
antidote used to reverse the effects of an overdose. More than 850
kits have been handed out to drug users in Hamilton since the city
launched a free public health program in 2013 - and more than 268 have
been used to reverse an overdose, which the city calculates as 268
lives saved.

But with drugs like carfentanil on the streets, the current dosages
are not adequate.

Kinsella said Hamilton police are studying the prospect of equipping
officers with naloxone, in case of exposure. He says while there are
serious concerns for officer safety, the ultimate goal is community

"Our focus is on the supply. You know, we're not as interested from a
law enforcement perspective on those front-end consumers. We want them
to get the help that they need."

Another topic likely to be at the top of the summit agenda is
supervised injection sites. The city is studying the feasibility of
bringing a site to Hamilton, after a survey yielded 84 per cent
support from community respondents.

Hawkins is all for it. And the mayor's stance on this issue is also
clear - especially after he spent a night talking to local drug users
with the city's harm reduction team on the needle exchange van.

"I'm more committed now than ever that safe injection sites make
sense," Eisenberger said. "Preventing disease makes sense. If people
are going to do it - and they are - let's find a safe place for that
to happen and save lives in the process."

For Hawkins, it was a harm reduction program - and the trust she was
able to build with the outreach workers - that inspired her to get
clean. But she knows that's not the solution for everyone.

She hopes Thursday's discussion includes housing, and the desperate
need in Hamilton for resources like after-care housing, for people
coming out of rehab or jail with nowhere to go but back to their old
using life.

People need hope, Hawkins says. And they need supports.

She recalled an encounter she recently had on the needle exchange van,
with three women she'd dealt drugs to long ago. One of them, while
picking up their supplies, turned to her.

"She said, 'Hey, Chrissy, maybe one day I'll be sitting where you
are,'" Hawkins recalled.

"It was humbling."
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