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HomeNewsEmergency Department Visits For Suspected Opioid Overdoses Spike To Highest Monthly Level...

Emergency Department Visits For Suspected Opioid Overdoses Spike To Highest Monthly Level Since Surveillance Began Locally

KAWARTHA LAKES-In October 2021 there were 36 emergency department (ED) visits for suspected overdoses in the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge (HKPR) District Health Unit catchment area.  36 mothers, fathers, children, aunts, uncles and loved ones, in distress.

“There are also many others affected by each overdose, including friends, family members, and the community. So, the impact of one overdose in our community has a much wider impact on the many people behind the numbers.” Catherine MacDonald, Substances and Harm Reduction Coordinator, HKPR,  told Kawartha 411 News.

It was the highest month for suspected overdose visits to hospital emergency departments for local residents (City of Kawartha Lakes, Haliburton County and Northumberland County) since September 2017, when this surveillance system started to be used by the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit.

MacDonald says data from Public Health Ontario shows a significant increase in the number of opioid-related ED visits, hospitalizations and overdose deaths in the HKPR region over the past ten years. In 2011, there were 60 hospital emergency department (ED) visits, 44 hospitalizations and 9 opioid-related deaths in HKPR. Compare that to 2020 when there were 208 ED visits, 39 hospitalizations and 37 opioid-related deaths. Public Health Ontario also reports 69 opioid overdose-related ED visits and 11 opioid-related deaths in the Health Unit region in the first quarter of 2021 (January to March 2021).

This increase in drug poisonings, or overdoses, is largely due to Fentanyl, which was present in 86.5% of overdoses deaths in the HKPR District Health Unit jurisdiction in 2020 according to MacDonald. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.  It is a prescription drug that is also made and used illegally and as an illicit drug. It is a medicine that is typically used to treat patients with severe pain, especially after surgery. It is also sometimes used to treat patients with chronic pain and can lead to addiction.

In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers, and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (US). This subsequently led to widespread diversion and misuse of these medications before it became clear that these medications could indeed be highly addictive. Opioid overdose rates began to increase. In 2017, more than 47,000 Americans died as a result of an opioid overdose, including prescription opioids, heroin, and illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.1 That same year, an estimated 1.7 million people in the United States suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers, and 652,000 suffered from a heroin use disorder according to the Institute. Link to stats:https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis

Read more on how pharmaceutical companies lied about Opioids here:https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02686-2

Since April 2019, the HKPR Health Unit has had five months in which 30 or more suspected overdose visits to emergency departments were reported.

According to PHO, the Chief Coroners’ Office of Ontario reports that preliminary data show there has been almost twice as many opioid related deaths in the first year of the pandemic compared to the year prior. Consider:

  • From April 2019 – Mar 2020 for the Health Unit region, there were 21 overdose-related deaths 
  • From April 2020 – Mar 2021 for the Health Unit region, there were 41 deaths.

Macdonald says there are a number of factors at play when digging into the root cause of the increase.

“Substance use and the risk of overdose, while on the rise pre-pandemic, has been complicated by limited access to many support services for people who use drugs during COVID-19.  Physical distancing and social isolation may be necessary to slow COVID-19; however, using substances on one’s own increases the risk of overdose.  Rising anxiety and depression due to the pandemic, as well as an increase in toxic drug supply, have also fueled the increase in overdoses.”

Ross Memorial Hospital (RMH) started operating its Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) Clinic in May 2021. The RAAM Clinic provides immediate access to lifesaving treatment by offering same-day counselling, addiction medication, and prescription therapies for people who are addicted to alcohol or opioids.

The clinic is staffed by RMH nurses and Peterborough Regional Health Centre physicians, who work in partnership with Fourcast, to ensure clients are supported through the continuum of their care.

“Addiction is still one of those things people like to hide. This program allows a venue to say ‘I need help’ and break down some of those barriers of access if you want care, if you want change, if you want to do something different,” says Marsha Coombs, Manager for Rehab and Mental Health and the RAAM Clinic lead at RMH. “Quick access to resources and seamless care will be beneficial to our community.

Ross Memorial Hospital in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMKA)for Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge, is looking to bring ten withdrawal management beds to the City of Kawartha Lakes.

“Ross Memorial Hospital has responded to a proposal call from Ontario Health for residential addictions treatment beds. We put forth the proposal because there are no residential addictions treatment beds in Kawartha Lakes, Peterborough, Peterborough County or Haliburton County.” Ryan Young, Communications RMH told Kawartha 411 News. “People in our area have generally had to access services in Durham, Kingston, or elsewhere in the province.”

RMH’s 10-bed proposal is in partnership with CMHA HKPR. Young says the hospital would staff the service the facility and CMHA HKPR would operate the physical location. Read more here: https://www.kawartha411.ca/2021/10/13/ross-memorial-hospital-and-cmha-looking-to-open-10-withdrawal-management-beds-in-kawartha-lakes/

Macdonald stresses there are many ways that people can reduce the risk of harm from opioids, such as not using alone and intervening if they see someone overdosing. Help out if you see someone who is overdosing. Call 9-1-1 and give the person naloxone (an emergency medicine that temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid overdose until the victim can get to hospital for treatment). Free naloxone kits are available at local pharmacies, Health Unit offices, and other locations. NOTE: The Good Samaritan Act protects anyone trying to help in an emergency from possible legal penalties. The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act also protects people on the scene of an overdose from being charged for possessing or using drugs. Change the conversation about opioid use. Set aside personal concerns and opinions. Treat people who use drugs with compassion and understanding.

More ways to protect against overdoses can be found here:https://www.hkpr.on.ca/my-community/reducing-harm-from-opioids/


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Pamela Vanmeer
Pamela Vanmeerhttps://www.kawartha411.ca/
Pamela VanMeer is a two time winner of the prestigious Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) Award. Her investigative reports on abuse in Long Term Care Homes garnered international attention for the issue and won the Ron Laidlaw Award. She is a former reporter and anchor at CHEX News, now Global Peterborough and helped launch the New CHEX Daily, a daily half hour talk show. While at CHCH News in Hamilton she covered some of the biggest news stories of the day.

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