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Number of area overdoses skyrocketing

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As 2021 nears the halfway mark, the tri-county area has already passed a grim milestone in the overdose crisis.

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The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit reported Tuesday that, in the first six months of 2021, its officials have received 176 reports of overdoses, 126 of which occurred within Brockville.

They added this total already surpasses the 165 overdose reports they received for the entire year in 2020.

“We had expected an increase, (but) not that dramatic an increase,” said Staff Sgt. Tom Fournier of the Brockville Police Service.

Fournier, a member of Brockville’s Municipal Drug Strategy (MDS) steering committee, added last year’s total was itself an increase of approximately 375 per cent over the 2019 overdose tally.

“That’s how fast it’s escalating,” said Fournier.

“It’s consistent all across Canada.”

Health unit officials said the majority of the overdoses continue to be related to fentanyl and benzodiazepines.

“The overdose crisis continues to strain the limited resources available across the tri-county area,” they added.

“The devastating impact of this crisis is felt across the community from people who use substances, their family and friends to the first responders and health care providers.”

The public health officials cited “the ongoing toxic supply of substances, outdated drug policies, and stigma … compounded by the necessary public health measures of the COVID-19 pandemic” for the current crisis.

“The overdose crisis is a complex health and social issue that requires multi-level government and community-wide responses to reduce substance-use-related harms while maintaining essential public health measures to reduce the impact of COVID-19,” they added.

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Pandemic-related lockdowns have deprived many people struggling with addictions of access to the programs and supports they need, said Fournier.

The staff sergeant, who leads the MDS steering committee’s “justice pillar,” added COVID-19 has also forced the court system to reduce the rate of incarceration in order to stop the spread of the virus inside institutions. However, that move has deprived many users of the treatment programs they could get in such institutions.

The MDS group is advocating for such things as drug treatment court or mental health court as ways of getting such people the help they need.

The coming end of the pandemic will create new problems, Fournier predicts.

For instance, once pandemic measures involving landlord-tenant relations are lifted, a raft of evictions will likely follow as rents increase, leaving those struggling with addictions homeless, he said.

The addiction crisis is a societal problem requiring solutions from many places, including all three levels of government, and involving more resources, Fournier believes.

The MDS group hopes to address these issues in a presentation to council later this year, emphasizing the need to work with the resources available now while advocating for more.

“We’re always looking for solutions, and realistic solutions,” said Fournier.

But he is encouraged at the greater level of participation in the MDS process.

“The community is recognizing that it is an issue,” said Fournier.

The health unit is encouraging people who use substances to turn to harm reduction services through the Smart Works program, Change Health Care and Lanark, Leeds and Grenville Addictions and Mental Health’s Opioid Team.

More information is available online.

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