NDP’s West calls for action to save lives in opioid overdose crisis in Northern Ontario

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QUEEN’S PARK- Jamie West, NDP MPP for Sudbury, held a press conference on Thursday before debate of his private member’s motion, which calls on the Ford government to take immediate action to prevent opioid addiction and overdoses, and save lives.

West’s motion, Preventing Overdoses in the North: More than just a statistic, urges the Ford government to invest in the services people who use opioids need to have a chance at survival, by funding evidence-based health initiatives like overdose prevention sites, mental health care, harm reduction strategies, residential treatment, anti-stigma training, and awareness programs.

“Ontario is in the middle of a public health emergency. In my community of Sudbury and across the North, rates of opioid use and overdoses have skyrocketed,” said West. “People are in very real life-and-death struggles. Northerners need urgent action to ensure people have the supports they need to stay safe and heathy.”

Statistics released following West’s announcement of the motion in May 2019 confirm that the situation has become critical. In 2018, there were 1,473 opioid-related deaths in the province. Of these, 141 people in Northern Ontario died in opioid related incidents. Public Health units in Northern Ontario are dealing with some of the highest rates of opioid related deaths and emergency room visits in the province, and these numbers are climbing at an alarming rate.

“Lives are being ripped apart by the tragic opioid crisis,” said West. “Front line health workers are warning the public that the prevalence of fentanyl and carfentanyl in Northern Ontario is putting lives at risk. Those lost to overdose related incidents deserve to be more than just a statistic. We need action now to stop these tragedies.”

West’s riding of Sudbury has experienced a spike in opioid related emergency room visits and deaths over the last year. From January to June 2019 Greater Sudbury paramedics responded to 262 suspected opioid related incidents. For the same period in 2018, they responded to 67 opioid related incidents.

At the press conference, West was joined by Marion Quigley, Outgoing Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Mental Health Association Sudbury/Manitoulin, who supports the motion and spoke about the need for more services to address the opioid crisis in the North.

“This crisis affects us all and we need to address the issue together so all citizens have good timely access to treatment and supports,” said Quigley.

“Communities, health care organizations and frontline health workers need a provincial partner to join them in helping people impacted by this crisis. Instead, the Ford government has been nothing short of cruel thus far. The Conservatives have cut public health funding, placed an arbitrary cap on the number of overdose prevention sites in Ontario, and are forcing frontline responders who are already run off their feet to do more with fewer resources,” said West.

Currently, Northern Ontario only has one overdose prevention site located in Thunder Bay – 1,000 kilometres away from Sudbury.

“Doug Ford’s callous cuts to services that assist people with addictions, from supportive housing to health care, will hit the North particularly hard. The Ford government needs to step up and do more to ensure people have access to the supports they desperately need,” said West.

“Northern families deserve a government that will work with local health authorities and communities to respond to the overdose crisis as a public health emergency. I am urging this government to invest in services that will allow frontline health workers in the North to carry out life-saving, evidence-supported work that will save lives in our community.”