Durham Region fights back against ongoing opioid crisis

Photo drawn by Toby VanWeston

A local councillor says he has a plan to help with the opioid crisis – but it’s taking longer than expected.

“We’re well aware that the opioid crisis across this country is taking thousands upon thousands of lives,” says Dan Carter, a regional and city councillor in Oshawa.

Last year, Carter brought a motion to the floor of Durham’s regional council to create a mobile health unit to bring health care to the streets for opioid addicts.

Carter wants the mobile unit to work with partners specialized in harm reduction programs in the region who can make connections with people who suffer from addictions.

Partners would include Lakeridge Health, Pinewood Centre, the AIDS Committee of Durham, the John Howard Society, and Carea Community Health.

“John Howard Society is one of the best outreach organizations we have in Durham Region,” says Carter. “As a matter of fact, they’ve been a big part of exchanging all the needles we have.”

The John Howard Society’s Project X Change began in 1997. The program provides sterile needles, alcohol swabs, and other equipment for drug users to prevent unsafe disposal.

The yellow mailbox shaped needle disposal units located in Memorial Park, Storie Park, and beside city hall are also part of Project X Change.

But, Carter says a lot of those agencies just don’t have the extra money. He hopes funds from the 2018 regional budget can help get the mobile unit started.

With all 28 of Carter’s colleagues voting in support of the initiative, he believes they are headed in the right direction. He says the mobile would be something that local government actually did outside the provincial legislated mandate. .

Meanwhile, two Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) clinics opened in Oshawa earlier this year. One is located at the Pinewood Centre for Addictions and Mental Health and the second at Lakeridge hospital.

The RAAM staff consists of Emergency Department (ED) physicians, psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, addiction counsellors, administration and a patient care manager.

The clinics focus on drug and alcohol addictions and hope to reduce the number of opioid-related overdoses currently handled by the hospital ED.

Data for the region on Public Health Ontario’s website showed a steady increase of opioid-related ED visits. In May 2017, there were 21 cases, which quickly rose to 62 in September 2017.

An infographic provided by the Pinewood Centre showed the new RAAM clinic has seen 68 patients as of March 30.

Patients referred for opioid use made up 57 per cent while 14 patients have started subuxone, a pharmacological treatment for opioid addiction.

The opioid crisis in Canada has risen steadily for years and alarmed many when the federal government reported approximately 2,861 opioid-related deaths in 2016.

Public Health Ontario showed 867 opioid-related deaths in this province,  with 41  in Durham Region.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid almost 100 times more toxic than morphine, was involved in 40.7 per cent of deaths in Canada. It also caused 20 of the 41 deaths in the region.

“The fentanyl issue is creating an environment where it’s not only dangerous for police officers that are investigating,” says Carter. “It’s also being found in a whole bunch of different drugs.”

The urgency to stop the crisis is higher than ever. “We have to do something locally and we have to do it yesterday,” he says.