Harm reduction group seeks support from residents on subject of opiate addictions

MANITOULIN—While it may depend on who you speak to as to whether Manitoulin Island has the highest overdose death rate in the world (per capita) for those using opiods, action has already been taking place on this issue and all addiction issues, say representatives of the Sudbury and District Health Unit (SDHU) and the Naandwehgiigamik Community Health Centre-National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program (NNADAP).

“There is a Harm Reduction Working Group looking into these issues on Manitoulin Island,” stated Brenda Stankiewicz, a public health nurse with the SDHU. “The group has developed a strategy to look at the issues of substance abuse. It will take the entire community on the Island to make a difference.”

“We know opioid use is a growing problem in Canada, and that is why we are banding together locally to help make a difference,” said Ms. Stankiewicz.

“It did raise alarm bells,” said Ms. Stankiewicz  of an article in the Northern Life July 29, 2016 issue with the headline “the rate of opioid addiction, death in the north should scare you.” It is explained in the article that addictions to opioids in Greater Sudbury and the surrounding region are a much bigger issue than the latest statistics would imply, according to Dr. Mike Franklyn, a Sudbury physician with expertise in addictions treatment.

It was reported in the article that in June, the SDHU reported 124 people in Greater Sudbury died from drug toxicity between 2008 and 2014. Of those 124 drug-related deaths, 108 were due to prescription drugs, primarily opioids like Fentanyl and morphine. Dr. Franklyn noted that opioid overdoses are often the main cause of those deaths.

Dr. Franklyn told Northern Life, “if you look at Canada, we are the largest consumers per capita of opiates in the world and Ontario is the largest consumer in the country.” And Northern Ontario has the highest consumption rate of opioids in the province. He said more prescriptions for opioids are written in Thunder Bay per capita than anywhere else in the world, and Manitoulin Island has the highest overdose death rate in the world.

Lauren Abotossaway, of the Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nations NNADAP, told the Recorder, “I can’t say these statistics are correct for the Island, but I wouldn’t say we (Manitoulin) have the highest rates in the world. But, drug abuse is an issue, and that is why the Harm Reduction Working group was formed. The group is made up of many groups and agencies looking at the issues and what can be done.”

Ms. Stankiewicz told the Recorder, “I have read the article that Dr. Franklyn is referencing. It indicates that as more opioids are prescribed, more deaths from opioid overdose occur. It also states that the Manitoulin district has the highest rate of opioid rates deaths, but indicates that this could be explained by the fact that Manitoulin district is the lease populous county in Ontario.”

“The office of the chief Coroner of Ontario has told us that between 2008-2013, there were 11 opioid toxicity related deaths on the Island,” said Ms. Stankiewicz. “And an article from the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network, July 2015, indicates that Manitoulin Island has a high rate of opoid prescribing, but this was not the highest in the province. I don’t believe it is fair to compare Manitoulin Island globally.”

Ms. Stankiewicz explained, “the same researchers that came out with these statistics also reported that there were almost 6,000 deaths between 1991-2010 in Ontario all from opioids, and there was an increase of 242 percent in opioid use. And the Alberta Health Service reported that in 2015 there were 278 deaths related to fentanyl.”

“We know from the 2015 Ontario Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) from the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction (CAMH), 59 percent of youth around the province indicate that they get prescription opioids for the purpose of getting high, from home,” said Ms. Stankiewicz.

Ms. Stankiewicz said on Manitoulin, as is the case through Ontario, one of the programs that has been legislated is the Patch 4 Patch program. Under this program, if a person is prescribed the Fentanyl patch, they must return used patches to the pharmacist before receiving their next patches.

“We want to and are looking at all of the issues that are in front of us,” said Ms. Stankiewicz. “That is why are harm reduction group is developing a drug reduction strategy, that we will bring to all the agencies involved and then to the decision makers.”

“In many ways this is a messy issue, alcohol and illegal drug abuse,” continued Ms. Stankiewicz. “The range of substances that people use and how it effects everyone in some way.  Drug abuse affects everyone in all facets of society. But we can all do something about it. Learn about drug misuse and the issues in our communities. Talk to others about what you have learned. Together you can find solutions to these issues.”