Drug poisoning calls reach record number for Peterborough paramedics

The opioid crisis has been a major issue for years and continues to escalate in Peterborough.

Health officials are calling for urgent action to address Peterborough’s opioid crisis as paramedics report responding to a record number of calls for suspected drug poisonings in the first six months of this year.

On Wednesday morning, Peterborough Drug Strategy reported that between Jan. 1 and June 30, Peterborough County-City Paramedics responded to 244 suspected opioid-related calls — the highest number of calls since monitoring began in 2018.

During the same period, preliminary data also suggests that drugs were responsible for 218 emergency department visits and an increasing number of deaths.

As of July, there have been 36 suspected drug-related deaths in Peterborough city and county this year, according to data from the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario.

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In 2020, there were 42 drug poisoning deaths in the city and county — 44 per cent higher than the 29 deaths reported in 2019, according to Peterborough Drug Strategy, a network of community-based organizations tackling substance abuse, focusing on prevention, harm reduction, enforcement and treatment.

Peterborough Drug Strategy also notes the locations of the overdoses are also shifting. In 2020, the majority of overdose-related paramedic calls were to private residences. However, it has shifted to more outdoor settings — 41 per cent of paramedic calls have been to outdoor settings versus 20 per cent in the same timeframe in 2019.

Between Jan. 1 and June 30 this year, 38 per cent of calls were to private residences, compared with 50 per cent in the first half of 2020.

Officials cite the COVID-19 pandemic as one factor for the shift.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the opioid crisis has grown to unprecedented proportions,” said Dr. Rosana Salvaterra, Peterborough Public Health‘s medical officer of health. “We continue to lose far too many friends, family members, and colleagues to these preventable deaths. These tragic circumstances are a reminder that overdose is a public health issue that affects all of us.

Officials continue to work on a consumption and treatment services (CTS) site at the former Greyhound bus station on Simcoe Street in downtown Peterborough. The project, which has been three years in the works, received federal approval in June. However, community partners are still awaiting provincial funding approval.

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“Our community can be proud of the innovative projects and programs that have been developed locally to help mitigate the harms of substance use in Peterborough, but it is time for the provincial and federal governments to enhance supports to all communities experiencing the opioid crisis,” stated Jessica Penner, co-ordinator for Peterborough Drug Strategy.

“COVID has shown us just how much we can adapt as a society. By investing in this crisis upstream, we would no doubt see long-term cost savings in the health and justice systems, as well as on-the-ground improvements for all members of our communities.”

The site would rely on resources from FourCast, Peterborough Regional Health Centre’s Rapid Access Addiction Medicine Clinic, PARN and the Mobile Support Overdose Resource Team, which connects people to services when they have experienced an overdose and choose not to go to the hospital

“Every day that Peterborough lacks an operational CTS raises the risk of fatal overdose or lasting injury,” stated Donna Rogers, executive director of FourCAST. “After three years of hard work and collaboration to make this service a reality, and faced with increasing harms affecting so many in our community, this is not the time to wait.”

The 360 Degree nurse practitioner-led clinic in Peterborough — a CTS partner — is also researching a safe supply pilot program to help determine how to best deliver prescription opioids to individuals experiencing substance use.

“The health impacts of the poisoned drug supply go well beyond the tragic number of deaths,” said Suzanne Galloway, 360 Degree executive director. “Overdoses are associated with a wide range of acute and chronic medical complications, including pneumonia, brain injury, and traumatic injuries sustained during an overdose. Tainted drugs cause infections and other adverse reactions. A CTS and a safer supply are part of reducing these harms.”

On Aug. 31 — International Overdose Awareness Day — Moms Stop the Harm Peterborough will host a memorial event at Millennium Park from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The event will feature the stories of family members who have lost loved ones, as well as information about substance use and overdose prevention and harm reduction training

“On August 31, we will grieve and remember loved ones that we have lost, and call on all levels of government for renewed commitments to address this complex issue,” said Salvaterra.

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