KAWARTHA LAKES-The Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit is launching a new Early Warning System Opioid Dashboard in Haliburton County, Northumberland County and the City of Kawartha Lakes.
The new dashboard will be updated weekly with the number of suspected and confirmed overdoses in the region, including those responded to by local police and paramedic services. The dashboard also provides historical data on opioid-related emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and deaths in the region.
Preliminary data from Public Health Ontario (PHO) for opioid-related deaths in the Health Unit region shows nearly double the rate of deaths in the first year of the pandemic compared to the previous 12 months. Specifically, PHO reports 21 deaths (or 11.3 per 100,000 residents) for the HKPR region from April 2019 to March 2020. This compares to 41 deaths (or 21.8 per 100,000 residents) from April 2020 to March 2021.
The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit has created the dashboard – also accessible at www.hkpr.on.ca – after receiving federal funding in 2020 to carry out the work. Several partner agencies, local police and paramedic services also provided feedback throughout the project development and implementation.
“There is value in being able to have a more complete picture of opioid overdoses in our region, allowing us to make informed decisions on how best to respond in a timely manner,” says Catherine MacDonald, a Registered Nurse and Substances and Harm Reduction Coordinator with the HKPR District Health Unit.
For example, if an increase in overdoses is detected, the Health Unit and its harm reduction partners could mobilize and respond. According to MacDonald, this could include issuing an overdose alert, informing police, first responders and people who use substances about a toxic supply of drugs. Partner agencies could do enhanced outreach in specific communities where there is a problem. Distribution of naloxone kits (an emergency medicine that temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid overdose until the victim can get to hospital for treatment) could also be enhanced.
“The opioid dashboard is valuable to help us respond more effectively and get a sense of the scope of the problem,” MacDonald adds. “In general, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen a noticeable increase in opioid overdose-related emergency department visits, hospitalizations and deaths in our region. This is not unique to our area, as similar trends are being seen across the country.”
MacDonald says the new Early Warning System Opioid Dashboard system enhances data collection in two important ways:
- Currently, the Health Unit only has opioid-related data from local hospitals, the Ministry of Health and PHO. The new opioid dashboard will also incorporate statistics from local police services and paramedics, allowing all local data to be centralized into one easy-to-access site.
- The dashboard also includes a form in which local residents and agencies can anonymously report on overdose incidents they may have witnessed or any other opioid-related activities of which they may be aware.
“We encourage people to visit the opioid dashboard when they have information to provide about overdoses and opioid activity. This can give us an even better picture on what is happening in our communities in terms of opioid use,” says MacDonald.
The Health Unit reminds people who use drugs to keep these safety measures in mind:
- Test a small amount of any drug before using.
- Never use alone.
- If you are alone, call the National Overdose Response Service (NORS) virtual safe consumption at 1-888-668-NORS (6677), or practice the buddy system and call a friend.
- Call 9-1-1 in the event of an overdose.
- Keep a naloxone kit on hand. You can get a naloxone kit at most pharmacies and needle exchange sites.
- Avoid mixing drugs.
MacDonald also asks people to intervene if they see someone who is overdosing. Call 9-1-1 and give the person naloxone. She notes the Good Samaritan Act protects anyone trying to help in an emergency from possible legal repercussions. The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act also protects people on the scene of an overdose from being charged for possessing or using drugs.
“Equally important as preventing overdoses is changing the conversation about opioid use,” she adds. “We need to work together, setting aside personal concerns and opinions, and treat people impacted by opioids with compassion and dignity to get to the root of this issue.”