TIMMINS -- It was a sombre start to the week for addictions and mental health groups in Timmins following three overdose deaths, now confirmed to be two men, 25 and 39, and a woman, 54.

Another five people who overdosed were revived by paramedics. This is second spike in overdoses in 2020, with the first being in early March.

Paul Jalbert, executive director of Canadian Mental Health Association Cochrane-Temiskaming, said with drug misuse often coupled with addiction, COVID-19 health restrictions could be exacerbating the problem.

“It’s such a complex issue,” Jalbert said. “The physical distancing and perhaps the social isolation that it’s creating, knowing that isolation in and of itself... can impact people’s mental health and their substance use.”

Combined with possible housing and food insecurity, Jalbert said drug use can be an especially destructive habit.

That makes it all the more crucial to step up outreach efforts and connect with those affected by drug addiction and abuse.

“When we have this short period of time where we lose so many people to (drug) use, we really have to find new ways (to do that),” said Jalbert. “Making sure that in terms of a service provider, that our outreach services are as best as they possibly can be.”

Access to technology would help

It will take effort from all levels of society, Jalbert added. Locally, he said having wider access to technology will help connect those in need with virtual support. 

Provincially and nationally, Jalbert said there needs to be a systemic effort to destigmatize drug use and abuse in order to focus on harm reduction as the key to preventing overdoses and deaths. 

For Patrick Nowak, the Porcupine Health Unit’s harm-reduction nurse, it’s about exhausting every possible method to reach those affected by drug use and spreading the information.

“(We’re) trying to find every option available to connect with people who use or their friends or family, just to highlight the messaging that either reduces the risk of overdose or at least having naloxone available in the event an overdose is witnessed,” Nowak said.

With naloxone being the only known substance to temporarily reverse an opioid overdose, Nowak said it’s an essential item for every household. They tend to work for up to 30 minutes, he said, leaving just enough time to immediately call emergency services.

That said, the Timmins Police Service hasn’t yet received test results for what drugs were involved in the recent overdoses, said communications coordinator Marc Depatie.

Police and the health unit previously issued alerts concerning opioids laced with fentanyl, carfentanil and benzodiazepines circulating in the area.

Depatie said while investigations by the police service’s drug unit continue and no arrests yet made, the current focus is educating families about the dangers of illicit drugs and to “engage in strategies that will limit the effect of narcotics on our community.”

“Proper messaging from parents to their children about the dangers, the inherent risks about drug experimentation have to be brought to the forefront,” Depatie said.

On that note, Jalbert said the public needs to be aware of what causes drug addiction, the “social determinants” that can contribute to the issue and what local organizations are doing to help.

“Get informed, read about some of the issues, talk to some of the service providers,” Jalbert said. “There’s always room for conversations with people ... so reach out, learn and ask questions.”