On August 31st each year organizations in the city stop to mark Substance Abuse Awareness day.
After considerable time spent by Public Health Nurse Allison McFarlane, they were able to compile the numbers and send them back to us. They are as follows –
- 90.2% of opioid-related deaths during the pandemic cohort were among people aged 25 to 44
- During the pandemic cohort, 16% of opioid-related deaths occurred among individuals experiencing homelessness, more than double compared to the pre-pandemic cohort
- Fentanyl directly contributed to 87% of opioid-related deaths during the pandemic cohort (compared to 75% in the pre-pandemic cohort)
In Algoma –
- In 2020, the rate of opioid-related death in the Algoma district was 44.7 per 100, 000 (compared to Ontario at 16.3 per 100,000 people).
- In 2020, the opioid-related death rate in Algoma was 3x the rate reported in 2019 (14.9 per 100,000)
- From April 2020 to March 2021, there were 51 total deaths reported (41 confirmed and 10 probable). This represents a 96% increase in opioid-related deaths compared to the previous year (26 opioid-related deaths reported)
- From January 2021 to July 2021, a total of 45 suspected drug-related deaths were reported
This means, we lose over one person weekly to substance abuse and are on track for 77 deaths by year end.
When speaking with Donna DeSimon of Addictions and Mental Health Associates, she was shocked by the numbers.
“I knew it was bad, but didn’t think it was this bad,” said DeSimon.
There is no easy answer to solving the drug crises in Algoma. Sault Area Hospital announced a 20 bed residential withdrawal and safe bed centre, being installed at the old Sault Star Building as well as the Wellness Bus (a collaborative initiative with DSSAB) are two preliminary strategies.
Another plan of action which has shown some proven success in other jurisdictions include a municipality investing in more social workers and other harm reduction strategies through their various social services providers.
Algoma Public Health has these tips for individuals who have lived through and are currently living through experiences with these disorders:
– Call 911 immediately if you think someone is experiencing an opioid poisoning
– Never use alone – if this is not possible, have someone you trust check on you
o If you do not have someone that can be with you, use a telephone service such as NORS<https://www.nors.ca/>
– Always start with a low dose and increase slowly, especially if trying something new or restarting use. If you previously used substances regularly, but have not used for some time, do not take the same amount as before, because your body will not be used to it and you will be at high risk of overdose.
– Carry a naloxone kit<http://www.algomapublichealth.com/addictions-mental-health/alcohol-drug-assessment/opioid-poisonings/naloxone/> (available at local pharmacies and other organizations or through online courses such as Naloxone Cares<https://naloxonecare.com/>)
– Never mix substances, including alcohol, as this increases your risk of overdose
– To prevent the spread of COVID-19, when responding to an opioid poisoning, wear a mask if possible, wear the gloves provided in the naloxone kit and perform chest compression only CPR.
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