Spotlight on Island’s opioid crisis

Research supplement details extent of the issue

MANITOULIN – This week’s edition of The Expositor contains a special supplement, ‘Out of the Shadows: An In-depth Look at Manitoulin’s Opioid Crisis,’ the culmination of months of research and interviews by then-Expositor staff writer Warren Schlote.

“This story began in a similar way to my work on the history of Jesuits in Wiikwemkoong, with an issue emerging in the news that was indicative of a larger problem,” Mr. Schlote explained of the supplement’s origins.

“In the newsroom, we had heard tales of skyrocketing overdose rates on Manitoulin Island, yet there were few official warnings from the powers that be,” Mr. Schlote continued. “I admittedly didn’t know much about the opioid and overdose crisis, even in general terms. Rather than completing weeks of research for my own understanding alone, I thought it would be useful to turn this assignment into a document that explores some, though not all, of the factors that may have driven the current crisis. An exhaustive understanding could undoubtedly fill several books and last for years.”

Mr. Schlote said he also turned to Island leadership, care providers and people who had lived experience with the cycles of addiction and mental illness to round out the story. “Most of my requests went unanswered, leaving some parts of the story as yet untold, and I am eternally grateful to those who shared with me their time, their knowledge and their hope that better health is possible,” he said.

Some of those interviewed asked that The Expositor withhold their names because of the sensitive nature of this topic, the risk of potential safety threats or the reluctance to speak to such a complex and widespread issue. Those who went on the record, especially the people whose personal lives have changed forever because of this epidemic, have delivered the urgency and magnitude of the problem in a way that reports and statements simply cannot.

“The research phase made it evident that there are still countless people who struggle to see this crisis for what it is—a public health tragedy and a social problem,” Mr. Schlote continued. 

This project is the culmination of months of evenings and weekends spent researching, writing and speaking with Islanders and health providers—the weekly news assignments don’t ease for a small publication like The Manitoulin Expositor and there’s little time during the day for large undertakings like this.

“‘Out of the Shadows’ could never be an exhaustive, comprehensive look at the opioid crisis on Manitoulin Island, but it’s a way of starting the process to improvements,” Mr. Schlote added. “I urge all Islanders to suspend their existing conceptions of opioids and read this story openly. There must be discussions with friends, neighbours and family members about the realities of this epidemic, and the willingness to work together to bring it to an end. That is what I hope this feature accomplishes: inviting people to challenge their beliefs and empowering them with knowledge they can use to be part of the solutions.”

While Mr. Schlote’s time on Manitoulin has come to an end, The Expositor team, and especially Local Journalism Initiative Reporter Lori Thompson, whose renewed mandate for the coming year includes reporting on the opioid crisis, will continue to celebrate successes, grieve with the community and hold decision makers to account as we continue to hold a lens to the crisis.

Islanders have seen positive results through working together, having successfully kept the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic off Manitoulin Island despite surging cases nearby. With that same energy and dedication, we may find the power to change the future.

An extra 2,000 copies of ‘Out of the Shadows’ is available for any organizations, schools or individuals who would like an extra copy or copies and are available at The Expositor Offices in Little Current and Gore Bay. The document is also downloadable.