Pubdate: Wed, 06 Sep 2017
Source: Niagara Falls Review, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Niagara Falls Review
Author: Allan Benner
Page: A1


Niagara needs a multi-pronged approach to head off the increasing
number of people overdosing on opioids like fentanyl, said associate
medical officer of health Dr. Mustafa Hirji.

As part of that approach, members of Niagara's public health committee
voted Tuesday to hire additional staff to implement an enhanced
provincial government program that includes outreach services to
assist people dealing with opioid addictions, opioid use surveillance,
and increased distribution of naloxone kits, paid for with $250,000 in
provincial funding.

Hirji said the number of fatal overdoses in Niagara associated with
opioid use has doubled in the past few years, to about 40 in 2015 -
the most recent year that statistics have been provided by the
regional coroner's office. "That is fairly large," he said, adding the
upward trend appears to be continuing.

"We hear from our hospital partners who are seeing these people come
in, and we are getting a sense of what's happening with them. The
sense we're getting is that the trajectory is continuing to increase.
It may have increased a little bit more sharply, but not massively
different," he said.

"We're seeing a lot more in our emergency department visits and in our
EMS transports. They're really seeing the numbers go much, much higher."

Niagara Falls regional Coun. Bob Gale, chairman of Niagara's police
services board, said overdose deaths in British Columbia are expected
to reach about 1,400 people this year. By the end of May this year,
about 488 people died in that province.

Gale said the problem "is coming this way."

And due to the large number of people dealing with opioid addictions
from all walks of life, Gale said police alone cannot resolve the crisis.

"We can't arrest our way out of this," he said.

Hirji said there are many causes for the increases.

For instance, low cost opioids are being shipped into the North
American black market from producers in China, while the drug is being
prescribed by physicians leading to addictions among older users.

To address the problem, Hirji said the region needs to incorporate a
"whole range of factors" into its efforts to prevent overdoses - such
as addressing social conditions that can lead to drug abuse, reducing
the number of opioid prescriptions, and increasing access and
education regarding the use of naloxone - a drug that can temporarily
counteract the effects of an overdose when administered along with
CPR. While Gale said education is an important element in the
multi-pronged approach, Hirji said youth education campaigns alone
have not been enough.

"We've had the 'war on drugs' in the past and although I think that
may have had some affect, it's obviously not solved the problem for
us," Hirji said.

"We've had lots of school campaigns out there, you know Say No To
Drugs, and it probably had some impact on young people, but it's not
actually addressing the problem."

Welland regional Coun. George Marshall suggested a proactive approach
to the issue.

"Knowing it's coming, as Coun. Gale told us, why do we have to wait
for something to happen to form an emergency committee that involves
Niagara Health, that involves the police?" Marshall asked.

"Why don't you talk to them now? Why not be at the ready? We know damn
well it's coming."

Committee members also supported a motion by Pelham Mayor Dave
Augustyn, calling for a report on progress made by the health
department and its partners in preparing for the increasing use of
opioids in Niagara.

"We have been shown some measures today - overdoses, non-accidental
deaths," he said. "Those are but two of the measurements and there are
so many needed in terms of engaging youth, alternative medications
prescribed. … Those are the things we should be focusing on."

The 2.5 full-time equivalent staff members to be hired for the
enhanced program include a harm reduction program co-ordinator, an
addiction statistician and a part-time health promoter.
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