Yearly drug-related death projection soars in Algoma

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In a world that is focused on deaths related to COVID-19, on new variants, on new positive cases and on multiple public warnings, there now comes a report from Algoma Public Health (APH) on our opioid crisis titled “The Perfect Storm: COVID-19 and the Opioid Crisis”.

A previous article we wrote in September reported 77 drug-related deaths in 2020, based on numbers provided between January and July of this year, and now unfortunately, the news has become even more grim.

This latest report presented recently, details the dire situation our community is in when it comes to opioids, deaths and the cost to the healthcare system.

The report shows that from 2019-2020 there was an increase of up to 153 percent (112.8/100,000 in 2019, 172.8 in 2020) in hospital visits related to opioids. There was an increase of 166% in hospitalizations (21.0 to 35.1/100,000) and a 300% increase in deaths (14.9 to 44.7) over the same time period.

A local snapshot provided by APH shows these numbers:

• From April 2020 to March 2021, there was a 96% increase in opioid-related deaths as compared to the previous year.
• From January 2021 to August 2021, a total of 56 suspected drug-related deaths were reported (compared to 53 from January 2020 to August 2020).
• In Algoma, Fentanyl was found in 87% of opioid-related deaths during 2020 (the provincial average being 86%).
• From January to August 2021, the number of naloxone kits dispensed from pharmacies, APH, and community agencies increased and surpassed the total amount distributed in 2020.

A straight line projection suggests 84 people will perish this year from drug-related deaths in our region. This would be, sadly, more than 5 times the number who have passed away due to COVID in Algoma since the beginning of the pandemic.

The report also highlights some of the conditions that COVID-19 has caused, which they believe factored into the increase:

  • physical distancing and isolation
  • border and travel restrictions
  • change in employment and/or income

These factors can lead to increases in emotional responses such as stress, anxiety, and depression. The border closing disrupted drug supply chains, forcing individuals to seek new, and perhaps untried, suppliers which would then increase the risk of opioid-related deaths. Poor coping mechanisms in managing the changes attributable to COVID-19 may have also led people to turn to drugs–whether for the first time, or as a return to using.

“If we had community consensus that addiction is a health problem – it would
go a long way to help clients access the help they need,” stated one service provider in the report.

According to APH, there is no one answer to fixing the issue. Working with other health units, monitoring the situation and reducing the stigma, are three of many things they are dedicated to doing to solve the issue.

“Stigma is a significant barrier to wellness and good health,” states the report. “The goal [is to] shift the language to more accurately reflect that substance use disorder is a health condition and not a moral failing.”

It is clear, through our ongoing series and multiple proclamations from officials, that this is the number one issue in Sault Ste. Marie.

So how do we, as a community, fix it? Keep watching as SaultOnline investigates some solutions which have had some effect in other parts of the world.

Thank-you for choosing SaultOnline/ONNTV for your news in Sault Ste. Marie and surrounding area.