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HomeNewsCity Of Kawartha Lakes Battles Its Own Opioid Crisis

City Of Kawartha Lakes Battles Its Own Opioid Crisis

Statistics Show Overdoses and Drug-Related Deaths In The Region Are Up And COVID Has Not Helped. 

KAWARTHA LAKES-Peterborough might get more headlines and attention when it comes to the opioid crisis in the Kawarthas, but according to at least one front-line worker, the epidemic is just as prominent and dramatic in the City of Kawartha Lakes. That is according to veteran Constable Sarah Ashwood with the City Of Kawartha Lakes Police Service.

Const. Sarah Ashwood of the City Of Kawartha Lakes Police Service works in the Community Response Unit and said, unfortunately, the opioid crisis in the city appears to be getting worse, not better despite all the unit’s good work.
Photo courtesy of Sarah Ashwood

Ashwood, who grew up in nearby Oakwood, is part of the Services’ CRU Unit – the Community Response Unit. That has brought her to the front lines of the opioid battle in the City. She said the drug and alcohol-related calls for service right now seem to be at an all-time high and the one that is killing people and making them sick more than any other is fentanyl. Ashwood said most calls for police service seem to have an underlying substance abuse undercurrent, whatever the substance is.  

“Whether that’s stealing from cars to buy drugs or domestic abuse incidents or mental health issues – it seems they almost all are related to substance abuse,” Ashwood said. “Now that I am on the CRU Unit, I’m even more acutely aware of the problem and the connection.”

The constable began working in the unit in plainclothes last October and now she is up to doing this at least two full days a week. She said the City Of Kawartha Lakes Police Service has seen a substantial uptick over the past five years or so in the number of calls for service involving opioids.  Ashwood provided suspected drug-related death numbers for the City of Kawartha Lakes to back that up:


2016 – 3 (2 confirmed opioid)

2017 – 2 (1 confirmed opioid)

2018 – 6 (2 confirmed opioid)

2019 – 9 (4 confirmed opioid)

2020 – 17 (6 confirmed opioid)

2021 – 14 (4 confirmed opioid)

2022 – up to April 11…5 (2 confirmed opioid)

“We on the CRU Team are dealing with people who have been involved with police and who may have a substance abuse problem. I have been on the road as a police officer for 18 years, first in York Region and now here. I recognize that the drug, specifically the opioid crisis in our community needs to be addressed,” Ashwood said. “We come at this in a different way than an officer in uniform. It has been rewarding as we’ve had successes, but on other days it can be very frustrating. At the end of the day, someone has to want help. You can’t force it on them.”

Ashwood said drug abuse crosses all spectrums of financial status, cultural upbringing and age and generation but added the common themes more often than not are homelessness, lack of employment, trauma and mental health issues. 

“Substance abuse is an out, a way to get away from the conditions a person is living in. It’s an escape,” she said.

Ashwood said there are no easy solutions to the crisis that she knows of. She does buy into the notion that people need to be convinced they would be better off without drugs before you can really help them with any and all aspects of their life. 

Statistics provided by The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit back up what Ashwood and others in the region have been saying – crisis intervention teams are needed, just to help keep people alive.

“The Health Unit has seen 211 overdose-related hospital emergency room visits from January to September 2021. This number is only for the first nine months of that year, but almost matches the entire total of 214 opioid-related ER visits reported in 2020 for the tri-county area (Kawartha Lakes, Haliburton and Northumberland),” stated Chandra Trembly, the health unit’s Manager of Corporate Services; Communication and Information Technology Services in an email to Kawartha 411 earlier this year.  “In terms of opioid-related deaths, there were 37 opioid-related deaths in 2020 for the entire Health Unit region. According to the most recent stats from Public Health Ontario, there were 26 opioid-related deaths for the first half of 2021 (January to June 2021) in the Health Unit region.” 

 Trembly suggested there is no solid evidence that any of these numbers are declining.  

“In general, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the health unit has seen a noticeable increase in opioid overdose-related ER visits, hospitalizations and deaths in our region. This is not unique to our area, as similar trends are being seen across the country. Factors for the increase are due to supports and services for people who use drugs being limited or impacted due to the pandemic,” Trembly stated. “Physical distancing and social isolation have been necessary to slow COVID-19, but using substances alone 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.”

The health unit has information on its website for those who use drugs and people who know others who use drugs:

The What You Can Do to Prevent Overdoses
  • Regularly visit the HKPR Opioid Overdose Report for the latest local data on opioid overdoses, emergency department visits and deaths.
  • Report overdoses and drug related info on this site without giving your name.
  • 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 Actprotects 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. If using a naloxone kit, refer to the Five Steps to Respond to an Opioid Overdose sheet. 
  • Change the conversation about opioid use. Set aside personal concerns and opinions. Treat people who use drugs with compassion and understanding.

This is Part 3 of a series of stories Kawartha 411 has been writing on the ongoing opioid crisis in Peterborough and Kawartha Lakes.

Read part 1 here:https://www.kawartha411.ca/2022/04/30/peterborough-artist-recovering-addict-says-latest-drug-related-death-stats-show-current-system-isnt-working/

Read Part 2 here:https://www.kawartha411.ca/2022/05/06/struggling-peterborough-couple-has-advice-for-those-wanting-to-get-off-citys-mean-streets-get-off-drugs/

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John McFadden
After graduating from Fanshawe College in London, Ont. with a diploma in broadcast journalism John began his career right here in the Kawarthas at what was then called CKLY in Lindsay. From there John went to CHEX-TV and Wolf Radio in Peterborough as a TV and radio news and sportscaster and morning radio show co-host. John moved on to City-TV and CP24 in Toronto. He covered and reported on many important stories including the SARS outbreak. John then moved to the CBC in Toronto as a senior news writer and sports producer.Wanting a change of scenery John went to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories in 2012 where he earned seven National Community Newspaper Awards covering stories in Canada's Arctic while working for Northern News Services.He returned to Ontario in 2021 and has been writing news stories for Kawartha 411 since late 2021.

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