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By Brad Aubin
Tribune

It’s a hard topic to ignore, as every day the death toll rises and the crisis hits closer to home. Opioid overdoses have become a nationwide crisis and West Nipissing is not immune, with the latest stats causing officials to sound the alarm and release dire warnings.

According to ‘Opioids and Overdoses - Impacts and Strategies’, which was recently published by the OPP’s Organized Crime Enforcement Bureau, over 1,200 Ontarians lost their lives from opioid-related causes in 2017, up from 865 in 2016. Based on statistics, one person in Ontario dies every seven hours from opioids. Since 2016, the number of opioid-related overdoses have increased by 157%.

Sadly, West Nipissing has been seeing its share of such tragedies.

“I really hate to use the term, but it really is a crisis,” acknowledges Michael Taylor, substance abuse counselor at the Alliance Centre in West Nipissing. He points to the type of substances being used, which are much more dangerous, and more addictive, than traditional opioids used to be. With some potent pain killers having been taken off the market, despite high demand, they have been replaced with drugs laced with fentanyl and carfentanil, of which even infinitesimal amounts can be deadly to humans.

“It’s not just regular opioids anymore either… with carfentanil, purple heroin, the risk factor is through the roof. It’s very unpredictable. It’s akin to putting a bullet in the gun and spinning the chamber,” he says.

Taylor cautions against harsh judgement of addicts, stressing that they are suffering and need help – and certainly don’t deserve a death penalty for their actions. “These are our brothers, our sisters, our uncles and aunts and they’re in pain. They’re people and they’re lost and we need to see them as people or else we create stigma and marginalize them even more, which is not helpful.” He hopes people will turn to addictions services such as those offered at Alliance, and will be supported to work through their problems and ease suffering through healthier means. “This is a societal problem, not individual. This level of drug use, to me, is reflective of cultures today, not necessarily individual. We need to stop thinking addiction and start thinking “why the pain?” Why are so many young people in pain? […] We’re losing a generation to carfentanil, fentanyl and purple heroin.”

Taylor believes opioids are an issue “everywhere” and not indicative of any city’s relative quality. “Though the further north we go, it seems that’s where the more problematic drug use is, I think because of isolation.”

According to North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit epidemiologist Auburn Larose, there have been 58 overdoses reported in the Nipissing districts’ emergency departments so far in 2019, compared to 93 in all of 2018.

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