Police issue public warning after three overdose deaths in 48 hours

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Amid an ongoing crisis that shows no signs of abating, Chatham-Kent Police have issued a public warning after three overdose deaths were reported in the community in the space of 48 hours.

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Amid an ongoing crisis that shows no signs of abating, Chatham-Kent Police have issued a public warning after three overdose deaths were reported in the community in the space of 48 hours.

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The overdoses are suspected to have been caused by the use of fentanyl, police said.

With the rise in opioid use across the country – a crisis exacerbated by COVID-19 – addiction is often referred to as the “second pandemic,” given its impact on the population.

April Rietdyk, chief executive of Chatham-Kent Community Social Services, said cooperation is needed across all sectors involving strategies from alleviating addiction to tackling root causes.

“Tackling the drug crisis in our community will take the whole community. No organization or agency can ever end the drug crisis on its own,” she said on Friday.

“We all have a role to play – in everything from education to prevention, harm reduction, overdose response, treatment and recovery – and we need the voices of those who have lived or living experience to guide us all on this journey.”

On Thursday, the Chatham-Kent Police Department released a statement urging opioid users to carry naloxone, a drug used to temporarily reverse the effects of an overdose.

“Chatham-Kent Police, along with (paramedics) and Chatham-Kent Public Health, would like members of the community to be aware of the risks associated with drug use,” the statement read.

Last September, Chatham-Kent council received a presentation from health officials on the scourge of opioids. In July, councilors lent their support to a coalition of Ontario mayors in pushing for the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use, in a bid to reduce harm and remove a barrier that prevents many ‘to call for help.

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“I think we are doing the right things in the short term. We have a naloxone program,” Chatham-Kent Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Colby said Friday. “We need the feds to step in and decriminalize.”

Colby added that there was “broad agreement” that a two-pronged approach is needed to properly address the issue.

This includes preventing new addictions through education and improved prescribing by healthcare professionals. Colby estimated that 80% of opiate addiction is the result of prescribed drugs.

He said decriminalizing drugs, similar to what Portugal has done, would mean that “addicted people don’t have to get drugs from illegal sources”.

“They can receive legal, pharmaceutical-grade, dose-controlled, safe injections without criminal penalties or financial ruin,” he said, “and by extension, without the need to engage in criminal activity to fund their drug purchases.

This year, the Chatham-Kent Hospital Group is proposing a 10-bed residential withdrawal management unit, requesting a one-time $500,000 grant from the municipality to help with renovations.

The unit still needs approval from Ontario Health, which would provide operational funding.

Rietdyk said she couldn’t say how many lives could be saved with a weaning unit, but added the facility would provide a valuable service.

“I didn’t know about their own personal experiences, but what I can say is that those with lived experience and their families and friends shared that having to travel to another city and be away from one of their support systems during such a vulnerable time is a significant barrier. And for many, that hurdle is too much to overcome,” she said.

“Community services, public, local and not-for-profit, continue to support individuals and families dealing with drug and alcohol problems, but a residential withdrawal management program is another map item on people’s road to recovery.”


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