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Ready to Roll 2018

notre jeunesse !

New drugs are more dangerous, more addictive, but not more present in WN than other communities

Police, health professionals want to help addicts, not demonize them

by Isabel Mosseler

Is there an opioid crisis in West Nipissing? Yes, and no. West Nipissing Police Chief Ray St. Pierre and the professionals at the Alliance Centre agree that opioids present a new challenge in addictions, that there are more overdoses in the area, and that the effects of opioid use have direct consequences on the community in everything from associated crime and dangers to the public, such as exposure to discarded needles. However, they also agree that West Nipissing is no different than any other community in Canada.

“It’s a global problem right now,” acknowledges Chief St. Pierre. “Opioids are being abused, provided, sold throughout Canada, and here. Now we’re seeing it more in our search warrants, our seizures, the different types of drugs. We’ve seized purple heroine, fentanyl pills, hydromorphone — these are drugs that can be deadly. Any drug can be lethal, but those especially.”

Contrary to what some have posted on social media, the problem is not transient addicts moving into the area, he notes. “We have our own addiction problems here, our own residents. We are lucky in this community that we have good rapport with the Alliance Centre, the hospital and doctors, good communication between those agencies.”

Part of the response to the increase in opioid use is the announcement that the Alliance Centre will be offering a needle exchange. Michael Taylor, who works as a counsellor in the Adult Substance Abuse Program out of the Alliance Centre, explains the reasoning. “These programs, the needle exchange, reduce harm to the individual, but also the community. …We look at this as a public health initiative to reduce harm in our community.” He adds that along with the opportunity for people to go exchange their needles, they will also offer education on safe injection, opportunities for various therapies and services, information, assessment, and a chance to address the addiction – all voluntary. He notes that when he and fellow counsellor Jamie Andreyechen worked at the hospital in North Bay, “they were getting more needles turned in than they were giving out – so that means no more needles in areas like playgrounds.” Lynn Perreault, the Interim Program Director at Alliance Centre, says “the needle exchange is now open if someone wants to come and talk to us about getting clean needles.”

Over the past weeks, there have been numerous incidents cited, reports to police regarding syringes found in various locations, both private rental units and public parks, causing considerable concern. Chief St. Pierre says, “While it’s not primarily our responsibility to pick those up, our people are trained and equipped …better than the general public. We have our Naloxone kits that we can use on ourselves or on people who are displaying overdose.”

Asked if it might also be time for a safe injection site in WN, St. Pierre responds, “By and large we see people injecting at home in their own apartments, still doing it in private— not like Vancouver where it’s happening on the street. There may be some occasions where people are injecting on the street, but we’re not seeing that. They are discarding their needles, tossing from vehicles, at an apartment, going to and from friends’. [With a needle exchange they] have a place to discard them and get a new syringe, plus materials and awareness of what this drug does. Don’t take your drugs alone, especially this type of drug. You may think you’re taking something, but it could be something else, and it can be fatal. The Health Unit advocates this as well.”

St. Pierre notes that if you’re taking these newer opioids, or you have a friend or family member doing so, you should get a Naloxone kit. Administering this quickly in the event of an overdose can save a person’s life. He also warns that these newer substances can easily be absorbed by someone involuntarily. “Just a little amount rubbed on your skin absorbs. If you’re caring for somebody, they are at risk too.”

“Don’t put yourself in that position. Young people going to a party, make sure you have a plan. If you don’t do drugs but think there might be drugs there – be extremely cautious. Have a plan— ‘If you don’t hear from me in half an hour or lose track of me, come looking for me …Watch my drink’. … Carfentanil is very deadly. Don’t be wiping stuff without gloves. Don’t touch it. Don’t put yourself in that situation,” he advises.

The WNPS has already had to administer Naloxone on a few occasions. Chief St. Pierre relates, “We often get calls to assist EMS, whether it’s a possible overdose or a violent victim. So, throughout 2017 we had 8 incidents where there was a suspected overdose while assisting EMS. In 2018, in the first six months, we’ve had 14 calls to assist with suspected overdose. Our officers have administered Naloxone twice.” He assures that no officers were themselves endangered. “They have all received training, First Aid, CPR; police are often the first to respond to a 911 call. Last week, we had one in Verner. The officer recognized the female’s breathing was very shallow. Sure enough, the Naloxone proved to be successful, … but we are responding to more and more calls of overdose.”

The West Nipissing General Hospital has a similar story, with their staff now equipped with Narcan, another overdose antidote. CEO Cynthia Desormiers responded to an email query with the following statement: “This is certainly a very serious situation and a concern here at WNGH. We have always captured data on overdoses through case coding in the Emergency Department, however since April 1, 2017 our reporting specification has changed. We are now mandated to report on a weekly basis the confirmed Opioid overdoses, as it relates to drugs defined as opioids. Opioid overdose cases can be identified as poisoning by opium, heroin, other opioids, methadone, synthetic narcotics and unspecified narcotics. (…) In 2017/2018 we had a total of 6 cases that met the definition of an Opioid overdose. [Since] April 1, 2018 (year to date) we have had a total of 10 cases of opioids overdoses. Given that overdoses and deaths associated with Opioid use, misuse and abuse have been increasing, we have taken additional precautions internally at WNGH with black gloves and Personal Protection Equipment for all staff and physicians. We have readily available Narcan kits for staff to use as well.”

The other aspect of public concern is the attendant criminal activity associated with opioid use. “Drugs are not cheap, so people who have lost their employment or are unemployed don’t have the money; they need other sources. People are going through unlocked cars, stealing bicycles, electronics, anything they can barter to get money to support their addictions,” says Chief St. Pierre. He adds that everyone should secure their assets. “You get those who are brazen, who may break into cottages, houses, vehicles. Often, not always, it’s related to an addiction. It’s a small percentage of the population doing these things. We deal with the same people.”

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