Opioid crisis continues amidst COVID-19 pandemic, PHSD

Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board paramedics have begun to deliver naloxone kits to those at-risk members of the Manitoulin community. Naloxone kits come in two forms: intramuscular injection, as seen above, or nasal spray. In the time of pandemic, intramuscular injection is seen as the least intrusive method. Shutterstock

SUDBURY – Public Health Sudbury and Districts (PHSD) is acknowledging the community members who are being lost to the ongoing opioid crisis. Statistics and stories from service providers, friends and families are testimony to the rising toll of the opioid crisis in our midst—a crisis that is deepened by the necessary COVID-19 prevention measures. 

Opioid-related incidents have been increasing since 2017. “In 2019, we lost 56 people to overdose deaths. From January to August of 2020, that number is already at 60. At PHSD, there is a reaffirmed commitment to reducing the impacts of substance use in the Sudbury and Manitoulin districts,” a health unit release notes.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has stretched public health resources, the agency is committed to working with partners to keep attention also fixed on the opioid crisis. The dual crises and how they intersect is causing even more harm and is at the forefront of service agencies’ minds, making prevention and risk reduction efforts critical.

Public health continues to promote harm reduction strategies and offers supplies and services that aim to provide knowledge, resources and supports for people who use substances. Works is ongoing with all partners, and in Greater Sudbury, the Community Drug Strategy is completing the application for supervised consumption services. With a noted increase in requests for naloxone since the beginning of the pandemic, public health and partners continue to distribute these life-saving kits in record numbers.

“To community members who use substances: you matter—your lives matter. We know that the COVID-19-related limitations on services and supports have been devastating to many,” said Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, medical officer of health with PHSD. “We continue to work with our partners to ensure supports are available in a timely and COVID-safe way. Please be careful, protect yourself and reach out for support when you can.”

Public health reminds everyone that if substances are used alone, to call the National Overdose Response Service (NORS) at 1-8888-688-6677. This 24/7 peer-led and peer-operated hotline provides confidential and respectful support, whenever and wherever substances are used. This hotline supports the choice to use substances with the goal of helping support safe use.

Community members who support people who use substances are reminded that their actions are important. People are advised to speak to friends and family about substance abuse, reflect on the words used that can increase stigma and learn how to identify an overdose. That information is available at phsd.ca/reduce-your-risk-of-opioid-overdose. PHSD recommends that members of the public know how to use and carry a naloxone kit with them.

For a free naloxone kit, contact PHSD, Réseau Access Network or a pharmacist. The Ontario government website lists places where citizens can also obtain free naloxone kits.