The night before the Huntsville all federal candidate debate on Sept. 25 a film was presented to community members titled - Painkiller: Inside the Opioid Crisis.
The event was brought by United Way Simcoe Muskoka, among the crowd of about 100, at the Grandview Golf Club, in the mix were a couple Huntsville councillors. No where in sight were the Parry Sound-Muskoka federal candidates.
It would have been hard to miss in this
presentation the clear message that opioid addiction has surpassed housing as the number 1 crisis in the region.
The presenters doubled down on the message that communities need to work as a collective to raise awareness, reduce stigma around substance abuse and “look out for one another.”
They presented a movie which detailed the scope and enormity of this issue. It delved into the depths of the ugliest side of this chronic disease. Decriminalization was brought up as a possible solution to saving lives and moving this crisis into the medical realm from the criminal.
The Good Samaritan Act is the backbone of the OPP opioid strategy. This act protects people from criminal prosecution when calling in an overdose and allows them to stay on the scene until first responders arrive without worry of being arrested.
The Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit provides the following stats on opioid overdoses, note the drastic increase from 2016 to 2018.
In 2018, there were 76 opioid poisoning deaths in Simcoe Muskoka for a crude rate of 13.2 deaths per 100,000, which was significantly higher than the comparable provincial rate of 10.2 deaths per 100,000. The rate of opioid poisoning deaths in Simcoe Muskoka has been significantly higher than the provincial rates over the past five years (2014 to 2018 combined.)
Out of the 76 opioid poisoning deaths 43 were related to fentanyl. This means that more than half of all opioid poisoning deaths in Simcoe Muskoka in 2018 involved fentanyl.
This was lower than the 58 fentanyl-related deaths in Simcoe Muskoka in 2017; however, it was still more than four-times the average number of fentanyl-related deaths in Simcoe Muskoka from 2010 to 2016 and more than 10 times the average number of fentanyl-related deaths in Simcoe Muskoka from 2005 to 2009.
Also in 2017, 8 or one-in-ten opioid poisoning deaths in Simcoe Muskoka involved heroine.
Prior to 2014, heroin-related deaths were uncommon in Simcoe Muskoka with an average of less than one heroin-related death per year.
The per cent of opioid deaths related to oxycodone has decline significantly since 2009-2012 when this drug was involved in half of all opioid deaths.
In 2017, less than one-in-ten opioid poisoning deaths in Simcoe Muskoka involved oxycodone; however, in 2018 the number of oxycodone-related deaths nearly doubled.
Stuart McKinnon, deputy chief, Muskoka paramedic services, said from January 2019 until spring Muskoka paramedics have responded to 24 overdose calls in the region.
The numbers in 2019 seem to have increased; for the same period in 2018 there were 15 overdoses reported. Monthly statistics, however, do fluctuate over the course of a year.
Given the above statistics as well as United Way Simcoe Muskoka making the rounds presenting their Painkiller documentary to desperately shed light on this regional crisis.
Not one federal candidate brought up opioid addiction as one of the primary issues affecting Muskoka.
Our regional services are stretched as is our health care system as a result of this crisis and yet this elephant in the room was not on the federal candidate radar both at the Gravenhurst and Huntsville debate.
The below insight into the stance on opioids from each candidate was due to the very last question asked at the Huntsville debate by a resident about the issue.
Liberal candidate Trisha Cowie said that being a lawyer gives her insight into this crisis. She offers up that the focus should be on saving human lives with safe injection sites, but again when it comes to “cracking down on crime we need to be able to provide tools to police forces so they can investigate.”
While injection sites save lives, let’s get realistic about Muskoka actually receiving one. We have enough trouble funding basic health care such as hospitals.
What tools, however, should we provide to the medical community in the thick of this crisis?
In his answer Conservative candidate Scott Aitchison provides that he understands that there is a crisis, but not just in this community but all across Canada.
He offers that the federal government should work collaboratively on putting all resources into the crime element of this issue. He underlines that he keeps an open line of communication with the local OPP and hears “stories of all kinds of where they have done a bust and they have gotten all kinds of opioids off the street.”
He concluded that we need to work with the OPP to get the drugs which our “damaging our society” off the street.
No mention of the need to address this crisis as a chronic medical illness and work collaboratively with the Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit.
NDP candidate Tom Young didn’t hesitate when stating that decriminalization should occur in order for people to receive the help they require.
He highlighted that decriminalization is not legalization and drug traffickers should be prosecuted.
“A lot of people got hooked on it because they were give a prescription ... and we have to support those people,” he said.
Green Party candidate Gord Miller followed Young’s lead and said that his party also supports decriminalization of personal possession.
“People who are hooked on this, the users, that’s a health crisis, that’s not a criminal act and we have to move it to a health crisis and treat them accordingly,” he said.
It seems that at least two out of four candidates are missing the point as well as the bigger picture surrounding this crisis.
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