Doctor duo recognized for fighting opioid crisis in Timmins area
A pair of physicians in Timmins have been given an award of excellence by the Ontario College of Family Physicians for their work in tackling the area's opioid crisis and helping form a better treatment system for addictions and mental-health issues.
Dr. Louisa Marion-Bellemare and Dr. Julie Samson received their awards earlier this month. They were honoured for achievements like helping form an area drug strategy committee, advocating for detox services at the local hospital and establishing a primary care clinic at a local homeless shelter.
The tag-team doctors said being nominated for the award by their peers was a surprise, though reassuring that they're working in the right direction.
"People recognize that there is an innovative approach happening in a northern community that people can apply to their own communities," Marion-Bellemare said in an interview.
The doctors also launched a virtual addictions clinic for the far north First Nations community of Attawapiskat.
The goal, Samson said, is to reduce overdose deaths, make treatment more accessible and coordinated, and to fill in gaps that have allowed the crisis to continue.
"What we were doing wasn't working -- including what we were doing as physicians -- at our own hospital," she said.
"We needed to change what we were doing ... by listening to patients about what they needed."
In 2020, overdose death rates in the Porcupine district were in the range of 74 deaths per 100,000 people, four times higher than the provincial and national averages that year.
At the start of 2021, there was fear the death rate would quickly exceed that number.
However, the doctors said deaths have decreased substantially across the district; in Timmins, they have been close to zero since April.
The Ontario College of Family Physicians congratulated Samson and Marion-Bellemare on the results of their efforts so far.
"Dr. Marion-Bellemare and Dr. Samson were able to completely change the attitude, approach and support of substance use disorder in Timmins hospitals, shelters, detox and family practices," said Karen Archer.
"Both doctors have also demonstrated that dedication to a single cause within the role of a family physician can lead to systematic change. The OCFP awards committee was impressed with their innovative program that was designed to ensure accessible, appropriate and equitable care for individuals experiencing structural vulnerabilities and living with addiction in Timmins and elsewhere in northern Ontario."