35 opioid deaths in region
“We need to be prepared”
This region is not immune to the devastating effects of opioid abuse, stresses the Eastern Ontario Health Unit.
“There is a perception among some people that there has never been an opioid-related death in Cornwall, however, this is not accurate at all,” states Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Medical Officer of Health. “In fact, in the Cornwall area, our ER visit rates related to opioids are higher than the provincial average and are among the highest within the Champlain LHIN (Local Health Integration Network) area.”
According to local data, there have been at least 35 opioid-related deaths in Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry, Prescott-Russell and Cornwall between 2010 and 2015.
In the recent past, local opioid overdoses were largely related to OxyContin misuse, but these have been progressively replaced by cases of fentanyl misuse.
Fentanyl is a powerful opioid that can be lethal if misused. Synthetic, or bootleg, fentanyl can be deadly even in small amounts, and has been responsible for a large number of deaths across Canada recently.
While there has not been a surge in local fentanyl deaths to date, fentanyl and synthetic fentanyl are known to be present in the area. Deaths caused by those drugs have occurred in Toronto and Ottawa.
“We fear that it is only a matter of time and thus we need to be prepared,” cautions Dr. Roumeliotis.
“Obviously the ideal approach is to avoid taking any street drug in the first place. However, we also need to ensure that for those who do end up in an opioid-related medical emergency (sometimes by unknowingly taking fentanyl-laced drugs), any first responder called to the scene have the necessary potentially life-saving tools (naloxone) to help the victims immediately on site,” he adds.
The EOHU tracks opioid data such as ER visits, deaths, as well as data from all first responders including local police, fire services and emergency medical services.
It has also established a community task force that has widespread membership including hospitals, school boards, community health centres, addiction services, first responders and the coroner. One of the major roles of this group is to track all opioid-related incidents including the need for naloxone administration, hospitalization, ER visits, etc.
The EOHU recently held a series of community forums on opioid use and overdose prevention, aimed at parents and students. These presentations, which include additional information and local data, are available to the public in the “Fentanyl” section of the site at www.EOHU.ca.
Additionally, as part of its harm reduction strategy, the agency is providing naloxone training to local fire services and other first responders and partners. It is also distributing free naloxone kits for opioid users and their friends and family members. For more information, call the EOHU at 613-933-1375 or 1-800-267-7120.
The health unit decided to release a statement on the issue in light of recent discussion in the press and on social media about the distribution of naloxone kits and the prevalence of opioid use and overdose in the region.