Pubdate: Tue, 29 Aug 2017
Source: Sudbury Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Osprey Media
Author: Jim Moodie
Page: A1


'People are dying in Northern Ontario and in our community with
regularity' from opioids

Drug deaths are now happening at an alarming pace in

"It's not just in Vancouver," said Lisa Toner, community outreach
coordinator with the Reseau Access Network. "People are dying in
Northern Ontario and in our community with regularity. It's not once a
month - it's weekly, is my experience this summer."

Toner, who has worked in addictions outreach for a decade, said her
sense of the escalating crisis has lately been confirmed by people in
the city's medical field.

"I've been saying forever that we' re experiencing more overdoses, but
I was recently able to corroborate that with EMS and the hospital,"
she said. "They are saying 'yes, this is happening.' "

On Monday, a letter signed by dozens of professionals who work in the
harm-reduction and health sectors was submitted to Premier Kathleen
Wynne, urging the province declare an emergency regarding "the marked
increase in opioid overdoses and related deaths throughout Ontario."

Several Sudburians were among the signatories, including staff with
the Reseau Access Network, which provides outreach and needle exchange
services to drug users in the city.

"We've definitely seen a spike (in overdose deaths) in the last year,"
said Richard Rainville, executive director with the network. "And
we've seen an increase in the amount of services needed through our
organization for people struggling with addiction."

Apart from offering clean syringes and referrals to treatment
programs, the network also provides access to naloxone, a medication
that can counteract an opioid overdose and save someone's life.

"We do a lot of training on opioid overdose prevention, and it seems
that a lot of our work in that area has gone up over the last year,"
said Rainville.

He said about 70 per cent of the work now done through community
outreach "is working on naloxone and opioid prevention, which means
there are less of the other outreach services being provided."

Earlier this year the province announced it would provide 80,000 more
naloxone kits to front-line organizations, as well as funds for more
staff, although the Re se au network has not yet felt any boost from
that commitment.

"So far, to the best of my knowledge, the only folks receiving
additional resources are the health units," said Rain vi l le ."I
heard rumours that possibly organizations like ours might be
considered, but I haven't heard anything directly."

Reseau staff and volunteers work closely with addicts, as do outreach
workers with the Sudbury Action Centre for Youth, but they can only do
so much to address the current crisis with the resources at their disposal.

"Personally I think there needs to be an increase in the budget," said
Rainville. "For example, our street outreach program hasn't expanded
in close to 10 years. Things have certainly changed in 10 years."

Toner said the variety and potency of street drugs have definitely
changed a lot-mostly for the worse - since she started working with

"Right now in our community we're seeing an increase in street speed -
pressed speed tablets with some level of amphetamine in them - and
also the injection of hydromorphone (a Dilaudid-type painkiller)," she

Perhaps most worrying, though, is the prevalence of "powdered boot leg
fentanyl," she said, which is typically imported from Asia and less
reliable than the type that comes from patches sold in drugstores.
"The other interesting trend is there' s a big increase in heroin,
probably as a result of people not having access to prescription
opioids," said Toner. "We know that the heroin is dangerous, and that
the heroin in town has fentanyl in it. We also know there are people
creating a heroin-like drug that doesn't actually have any heroin in

A variety of heroin doses were tested at an international harm
reduction conference she attended in May, the outreach worker noted,
"and there wasn't a dosage tested that didn't have bootleg fentanyl in

While the Wynne government has acknowledged the crisis and pledged
some money to combat it, Toner said she feels it should be taken as
seriously as a health crisis like the SARS outbreak, which claimed 44
lives in Canada.

"When you look at the amount of people who have experienced fatal
opioid overdoses, I don't think we're getting the level of response
for this crisis that we' ve seen from other public health crises ,"
she said. "That's really unfortunate, especially for the folks and
families who are being affected."

While many view addiction as a weakness and have little sympathy for
users, Toner said it's unfair to judge the people whose lives are at

"Drug dependence should be seen as a health issue, not a moral issue,"
she said. "And if it were treated equally, like some of the other
health issues, I don't think we'd be where we're at today."

The declaration of an emergency would allow for orders of "increased
funding for front-line harm-reduction workers" and "the rapid
establishment of additional overdose prevention sites," according to
the letter submitted to the premier.

In response, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care said the
province is committed to tackling the crisis and has already launched
a strategy to prevent fatalities.

"Minister (Eric) Hoskins has also met with mayors from across the
province to discuss the unique experiences of individual communities
dealing with opioid addiction and overdose and to continue working
together to address this important issue," the ministry said in a statement.

"We know there is more work to be done," the statement adds. "Any loss
of life as a result of opioid overdose is a needless and preventable
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt