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Friday, September 01, 2017

'This epidemic isn't going away'

Local agencies supporting those suffering from the opioid crisis used International Overdose Day on Thursday as an opportunity to bring attention to the issue.

The opioid crisis is no longer an issue just for large cities. The Kingston area, as well as some villages north of the city, have overdose numbers that are aso concerning.
For example, Overdose Day was marked in Sharbot Lake as well as Kingston.
On Thursday morning, the Kingston Community Health Centres'Street Health Centre held a news conference to mark the
occasion.

The event featured seven speakers from Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington Public Health, the Street Health Clinic, a local pharmacist, a representative from the Ontario Provincial Police and a Kingston mother of a victim of an overdose.
Approximately 15 people, along with local media, attended the conference.
The day is important for many reasons, said Rhonda Lovell, a public health nurse and MC of the conference.

"It aims to raise awareness of drug overdose and reduce the stigma of drug-related death and injuries." Silver balloons to mark those who have died from drug overdoses were set up around the conference room as well as outside the
centre on Barrack Street and around the downtown area. A much smaller number of purple balloons were also on display to signify people who have been saved from overdoses.

The day also sends a message, Lovell said. "The infinite value of each human being nullifies presumption, stigma, prejudice
towards people who use drugs or have died or sustained permanent injury from drug use."

Lovell said it's a time to remember and honour the lives that have been lost in our communities.

The day also hit home for Sue Deuchars of Kingston, who lost her 24-year-old son, Devon, from a drug overdose in 2016. "His overdose was preventable," she said at the conference. "In my experience, the stigma and marginalization of people who use
substances is huge."

She said her son struggled with drug abuse for 12 years and said compassion should be the No. 1 support for people like her son. "It's really important for people to open their minds and their hearts and to lose the stigma surrounding addiction and to develop
compassion," Deuchars said.

"We can have naloxone as a tool, we can have safe injection sites, which are all wonderful and needed, but I feel [members of] the public who don't have personal experience with substance use or have loved ones I think it's really important for people to step out of their frames of reference," she said. "Addiction comes in many forms.
"This epidemic isn't going away anytime soon. It's a controversial issue, but I feel really strongly that this country needs to decriminalize, legalize and regulate all drugs."
She said that rather than incarcerate drug users, the government should use the money for treatment for addiction, for mental health for ongoing recovery programs and improving wait times for those who want and need help.

"My son kept trying to recover and was met with sometimes months of wait times from detox to treatment." Dr. Kieran Moore, medical officer of health for Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington Public Health, said the number of fatal overdoses in Ontario continues to rise and is a pressing public health issue.
In 2016, Moore said, more than 800 Ontarians died of drug overdoses. "That's a 19 per cent increase over the previous year," he said. He said the opioid epidemic began 15 years ago and shows no signs of slowing down. "We have lots of work to do to prevent further overdoses," he said.

Moore said drug users should be taking precautionary measures, such as having a naloxone kit with them while taking drugs and having a partner with them who could call 911 in case an overdose occurs.

Tina Knorr, an outreach worker with the Street Health Centre, said that since September 2015 when the centre started the Opioid Overdose Prevention program, 1,032 naloxone kits have been dispensed, 140 people have reported back to the centre that they used naloxone, with 56 of those calling 911 for further treatment.
Moore said anyone who overdoses and takes naloxone must go to the hospital because the life-saving drug only temporarily stops the effects of an opioid overdose.
This year, Knorr said 437 kits have been dispensed from the centre, with 91 people reporting overdoses where naloxone was involved.

In August of this year alone, 72 naloxone kits were distributed. Those statistics don't reflect naloxone kits given out by local pharmacies. Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacist Krina Vaghela said all of their local pharmacies, as well as their competitors', have naloxone kits to distribute free of charge and without a prescription.
Insp. Pat Finnegan of the Napanee Ontario Provincial Police said that officers in Ontario soon will have the kits in their vehicles and encourage anyone who helps an overdosed person to call 911. The Ontario Good Samaritan law protects people from
prosecution if they call 911 for a drug overdose.

When the conference concluded, a moment of silence took place to remember those who have died from drug overdoses. After the conference, Deuchars told reporters it was important to tell the story about her son, "and to learn as much as I possibly
could and pass the wisdom to everyone else."

She said Devon's death profoundly affected her and her other son and daughter.
"Our lives will never be the same," she said. "It's with me every single day and I keep waiting for it to get easier and it doesn't." But Deuchars wants her loss to help others.
"I want to use it as a catalyst to spread compassion and to spread the word that stigma kills, and that keeps me waking up every day," she said. "My son didn't have to die, and all the people who have died in this community didn't have to die. Overdoses are entirely preventable." imacalpine@postmedia.com Twitter @IanMacAlpine
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