Opioid crisis hits home

 In Opinion

It is an unfortunate reality that local emergency responders are in the thick of the current opioid crisis as they are often the first on scene for such emergencies.

Clearview Fire Chief Colin Shewell has said firefighters and Simcoe County Paramedics have responded to several overdoes in the last few months alone.

Officials say overdoses continue to rise in the Simcoe-Muskoka region.

Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lisa Simon has said the rates of opioid-related overdoses and deaths locally are significantly above the provincial average. There were 46 opioid-related deaths in the region last year, an increase of 50 per cent over the year before. Opioid poisoning deaths have been increasing over the last decade, hitting men ages 25-44 the hardest.

A wide-ranging cross-sector strategy to tackle the opioid crisis in Simcoe-Muskoka is about four months away from completion.

Responding to the opioid issue has drawn in resources from every department in the health unit; as a result opioids will be targeted as an urgent public health issue under the health unit’s current strategic plan, taking the health unit into 2018.

In a recent update to the Board of Health, Simon noted that beyond warnings and prevention strategies, tools are needed to reduce the risks for people who regularly use drugs due to addiction. The regional collaborative strategy will help to address educational needs for healthcare providers regarding opioids. As well, awareness campaigns will continue to work toward preventing misuse, while other programs will work with people using drugs to reduce harm from use of tainted street drugs.

Among the initiatives to reduce harm, a study and community consultation is being explored around the possibility of a local safe consumption site (or safe injection site). Safe consumption sites help with safer drug use, and support access to counselling and treatment options for those who want it. Approval for such a site would be required from Health Canada after a local need has been proven.

In the meantime, Shewell has received approval for Clearview firefighters to receive training on how to administer an opioid overdose treatment.

“Recent advancements in the medical field have resulted in life saving drugs for opioid overdoses. After consultation with the County of Simcoe Paramedics, Fire management believe that equipping and training our firefighters to properly administer a drug called Naloxone would save lives. In order to perform this initiative, changes are required to our medical program and training,” reported Shewell.

Firefighters would be able to administer Narcan, which is a nasal spray version of Naloxone that blocks the effects of opioid drugs, he said. An overdose of opioid drugs, such as fentanyl, morphine, heroin, methadone or oxycodone, can cause a person’s breathing to slow or stop. Naloxone can reverse negative opioid effects so the person can breathe normally and potentially regain consciousness.

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