Fourcast Executive Director agrees and says more political and public will needed.
PETERBOROUGH-A well-known Peterborough artist who is also a self-described recovering drug addict said he is not the slightest bit surprised that there were at least seven suspected drug-related deaths in the Peterborough area in April alone and at least 14 suspected drug-related deaths so far this year.
Those figures were released to the public in an advisory issued by Peterborough Public Health on April 22.
Alex Bierk, who makes no secret of the fact that he once was an opioid drug addict, said as someone who works and lives downtown he sees the darker side of Peterborough’s streets on a daily basis.
“But to be honest, I’m immune to displaying emotions when I hear about deaths like these. I am frustrated and angry though at the broken systems that we have in place. We are failing people who are struggling, who are dying. They are using poisoned drugs and little is being done to help keep them alive,” Bierk said. “This is a big part of the reason I intend to run for council in Town Ward in the fall. We have lobbied local politicians. We have had an opioid summit. But the problem continues to get worse, not better.”
Bierk recalled a meeting of friends and fellow addicts a few years back at his downtown art studio where they counted more than 30 friends who they had lost to drugs.
“Since then that number has risen to more than 60 people so we stopped keeping count. It’s so devastating, so insane, so crazy. And what hurts is that there is very little response to these numbers from those people in a position to enact change, people with the power to do that,” Bierk said. Health funding is a provincial issue but municipalities must become more involved in this problem, in this process to enact change.”
Bierk agreed that for many people in Peterborough, these drug-related death numbers don’t make sense and it is hard for them to wrap their heads around them. But he added, these numbers are real and if anything, they are on the low side. He thinks that it will take until the entire city realizes how serious the problem at hand is – before drastic, concrete and legitimate steps are taken to address the issue.
“Right now, some of these programs downtown, especially since Covid, you have to access with a cellphone. Well, some of these downtown folks might have access to a phone for a few days, but not permanently. Simple things like that have to be fixed,” Bierk said.
Donna Rogers, the long-time executive director of Peterborough-based Fourcast, an addiction services provider, said that these alarming numbers have to be put into perspective.
“Most of these are not overdose deaths. These deaths are not from people consuming too much of a given drug. There are deaths caused by people taking poisoned drugs. They are dying from drug poisoning, not overdoses,” Rogers said. “It’s what the Fentanyl for instance that is being cut with, that is poisoning these people. It would be the same as a vodka drinker consuming vodka laced with arsenic. It would kill them.”
Rogers added that the opioids being consumed on the streets of Peterborough and elsewhere are not manufactured in a licenced or regulated laboratory. They are made in clandestine labs and that’s where the toxins and poisons enter the system.
“There is no control over what’s in it and that’s what some of the users don’t understand. These drugs on the streets are not diverted pharmaceuticals. They’ve been produced illicitly,” Rogers said. “This is product that is being manufactured outside of any inspections or accountability that would be available in the above-ground marketplace.”
Rogers said that to lose at least 14 people in the first four months of the year to suspected drug use triggers a great deal of loss, a great deal of tragedy.
“It prompts me to wonder what could have been done here to create a different outcome? How do we save people from a contaminated supply? That’s what safe supply projects are about. Rather than people going to the streets to get opiates to manage their opioid addiction – they actually have access to pharmaceutical-grade opiates that allow you to manage your addiction without the risk of poisonings.”
Rogers said Fourcast has recently been funded to open a safe consumption site for people. She said that cuts down on the vulnerability.
“They can use in a secure location and if they were ever to be poisoned or have a reaction, there are medical people on site who can help you in that emergency and they actually don’t die.,” Rogers said. The nurse practitioner-led clinic is also doing a safe supply project.”
Rogers said there are so many other issues around how does someone makes changes to their substance abuse? If you put all these important things in place then we are going to reduce deaths. Housing is a perfect example. Housing can support people’s changes..”
Rogers suggested that if more affordable housing was available then people wouldn’t have to live on the streets where it is dramatically easier to fall into an abuse environment.
“The solutions to the opioid crisis are much more complex and interwoven than what we’ve traditionally seen with mainstream alcohol and drug problems. Housing and mental health are now major factors in this crisis as well.’
In its advisory of April 22, Peterborough Public Health asked citizens to help prevent drug related deaths.
“This increase has prompted Peterborough Public Health to proceed with issuing this notice in the hopes of bringing awareness to and preventing further drug-related harms within our community. Any substance bought from an unregulated supply should be considered tainted. Any drug can be mixed or cut with toxic substances, and even a small amount can cause a fatal poisoning,” the advisory states.
Peterborough Public Health advises if you use substances:
Do not use drugs alone.
If you using with a friend, do not use at the exact same time.
Have a plan – Ask someone to check on you or call the National Overdose Response Service 1-888-688-6677.
Carry a naloxone kit. Keep it visible and close by.
Avoid mixing drugs.
Test your drug by using a small amount first.
Call 911 immediately if someone starts to show signs of an overdose and/or cannot be resuscitated after naloxone is administered.
You are at greatest risk when you are using alone. If you are using drugs right now, it is critical that you take action to stay safe. Use with a friend and do not use at the same time. You can also ask someone to check in on you or call the National Overdose Prevention Service at 1-888-688-6677.
Community members are encouraged to know the signs of opioid poisoning and how to respond. An opioid poisoning may look like the following:
Skin is cold and clammy;
Fingernails or lips are blue or purple;
Body is very limp;
Cannot wake the person up;
Deep snoring or gurgling sounds;
Breathing is very slow, erratic or has stopped; and/or
Pupils are very small.
If an overdose is witnessed: Call 911. Give naloxone. Stay with the person until help arrives.
Under Canada’s Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, anyone who seeks medical help for themselves or for someone else who has overdosed, WILL NOT be charged for possessing or using drugs for personal use.
Peterborough Public Health is also encouraging members of the public to use the recently launched ‘Drug Reporting Tool’. This tool is an anonymous survey to report overdose incidents and harms in the community. Any information shared through the survey supports Peterborough Public Health and community partners in responding to and preventing overdoses in the Peterborough Area. The Drug Reporting Tool can be accessed by clicking here.
For more information, or to find out how to access naloxone, please visit www.peterboroughpublichealth.
This is the first part of a series of stories Kawartha 411 is doing on the opioid crisis in Peterborough and Kawartha Lakes.
In part two of the series, we learn more about the situation in Kawartha Lakes, hear from some of those people on the streets and learn what they think should be done to help.