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Drug strategy committee launches new project to tackle drug problem, wants municipalities to help

The Drug Strategy Committee of North Bay and Area is part of a province-wide project aimed at finding new solutions to end the drug poisoning crisis.

This initiative is called ‘Choosing a New Direction.’

A fact sheet about addressing the drug poisoning crisis in Ontario. (Image courtesy of Drug Strategy Network of Ontario)"It's scary, very scary for us," said the committee’s chair Pat Cliche.

The provincial body, the Drug Strategy Network of Ontario (DSNO) released troubling new data on drug poisoning in Ontario in 2021 calling on municipalities to take a hard look at finding solutions.

"When I got all the fact sheets, I sent them to almost every mayor and reeve in our area,” said Cliche.

Statistics show in 2021 on average, eight people died every day from opioid overdoses in Ontario and the death toll increased by 232 per cent from 2016. The highest rates of opioid-related deaths being in northern Ontario.

"It's not that we aren't trying. Even though it's a federal issue, what they're trying to say is that it also falls on the shoulders of municipalities,” said Cliche.

Two weeks ago, the Office of the Chief Coroner released preliminary figures showing five cities in the northern region: Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Greater Sudbury, Timmins and North Bay had the highest opioid mortality rates per 100,000 population last year.

“You have to think of the impact this is having on our emergency department, on our EMS and our first responders. They get the first calls,” said Cliche.

According to the data, which was released May 4, the provincial average for opioid-related deaths per 100,000 population was 17.6. That's much lower than the average of 60.1 in northern Ontario's five largest cities, three times higher than the provincial average.

"The first and most important thing is the prevention aspect in regards to that,” said North Bay Police Chief Scott Tod.

“Creating an awareness of drug prevalence in our community."

According to the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit’s online overdose reporting tracker, 24 people died from 263 recorded overdoses. The most common drug used was fentanyl followed by “unknown” opioids. The May 4 data shows 53.2 opioid-related deaths per 100,000 people in North Bay for 2022.

The health unit’s website states in 2017 the rate for opioid-related emergency departments in the region was among the highest rates in the past 12 years and similar to that of the Ontario rate in 2017 and the death rate was also on par with that of Ontario’s.

The death rates were significantly higher in the health unit’s region from 2010-2014, compared to Ontario.

"In regards to addictions, the second part of that is services,” said Tod.

“We have a lot of services available in our community. It's now getting the knowledge and awareness of those services out into our community."

Cliche is calling on a need for more treatment options to help people with their addictions. Top Stories

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