Editorial: Lack of transparency on drug overdose numbers cloak a crisis

The ogimaa is urging residents to carry a life-saving naloxone kit, which can be obtained for free from Naandwe Miikaan, Wikwemikong Health Centre and Mereb Pharmacy. Naandwe Miikaan is available 24 hours a day by calling 705-859-1390. Should you need a naloxone kit, please call them.

There are currently two epidemics raging across our nation—one of those epidemics is receiving massive media attention, complete with regular reports of its escalating numbers across the globe and massive amounts of national treasure are being applied to combat its ravages. The second receives little in the way of concern or profile and remains stymied by a reluctance of all levels of government to find ways to stem the tide of its casualties.

Over the past few weeks, a veritable avalanche of drug overdoses have been reported in our Island communities, with at least two lives being lost within just the last week. Blessedly, so far, the COVID-19 pandemic has failed to claim a single life on Manitoulin—may it continue to be so.

The most visible of these two epidemics, the COVID-19 pandemic, is indisputably a matter of serious concern—no question. But we cannot simply ignore the ravages of the second pandemic, the current opioid crisis and the toll that epidemic it is taking on families across the nation and the globe.

There is much being made of the urgent need for contact tracing and isolation of those who are carrying the COVID-19 virus, but little seems evident of any co-ordinated effort to combat the wave of opioid deaths that are occurring with distressing regularity among Island families.

While there are currently efforts underway to bridge silos between organizations whose mandates encompass various aspects of the opioid crisis, an investigation by The Expositor has revealed a startling lack of information one would consider vital to effectively allocate resources and efforts needed. No one seems to have a handle on the actual number of overdoses occurring in our communities—but we do know that number is large and that it is escalating.

Seven overdoses over one weekend in one small community alone (and no community is immune) have been confirmed, but those who would be expected to have a better idea of the numbers suggest the numbers are at least double what The Expositor can verify.

The social problems that accompany addictions are legion—underpinning human trafficking, domestic abuse and widespread property crime.

Other jurisdictions are finding ways to share information and best practices in an effort to stem the tide when it comes to the opioid crisis, but even where a concerted effort is in place, a lack of resources  hampers their efforts.

While the COVID-19 pandemic may be a complicating factor in dealing with the opioid crisis, that excuse falls flat because the opioid crisis in not new. Its ravages have been sweeping across our nation for years. Since 2016, there have been more than 9,000 apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada and in 2017, at least 11 lives were lost each day due to opioid overdoses.

The reason for the lack of urgency in dealing with the opioid crisis can largely be traced to the stigma attached to addictions, but as evidence has proven time and again, many of those addictions came from the indiscriminate prescription of opioid-based painkillers for chronic pain, prescribed by well-meaning physicians.

It is long past time we set aside our prejudices and set our political will to finding a solution to the opioid crisis that is causing so much pain and grief in our communities. There are few families that have not been impacted by this crisis and their grief and pain are not bounded by blame or shame.

As a compassionate and caring nation we must do more to combat the underlying causes of this plague upon our families and, as communities, we urgently need to work together to plumb the true extent of this “other” epidemic—that is the first step to finding a path forward.