SUDBURY -- After a Labour Day weekend that saw an unnaturally high number of overdoses, the Timmins and Area Drug Strategy is reminding the public, people who use substances, and their friends and family, that powerful opioids and other toxic substances continue to be circulating in the area.

A news release from the Porcupine Health Unit on Wednesday said the last warning was issued in June following a high volume of emergency calls related to suspected opioid overdoses.

Dr. Lianne Catton, the medical officer of health and chair of the drug strategy, said the upward trend is being felt across province and nation.

“We continue to see increased suspected opioid-related overdoses, and tragic outcomes within the Cochrane District,” Catton said in the release. “We in the north are not exempt from these trends … The opioid crisis remains a significant concern for all PHU communities.”

COVID made things worse

Paul Jalbert, a member of the Timmins and area drug strategy and executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said the COVID-19 pandemic has increased overall inequities, particularly for those dealing with mental health and addiction issues.

"The tragic loss of life that impact so many who are struggling with addictions is a stark reminder that we need to continue to implement harm reduction approaches while also ensuring that the health services for treatment are available,” Jalbert said.

Angèle Desormeau, a member of the drug strategy, and executive director of South Cochrane Addictions Services, said the COVID-19 pandemic has created conditions that increase the risk of overdose for people who use drugs.

“We endorse Addictions and Mental Health Ontario’s call for urgent action to address the rising number of overdoses and opioid-related deaths and the devastating impact felt by families and communities across Ontario,” Desormeau said. “At the same time, substance use rates in adults have increased. A recent Ipsos survey indicated 42 per cent of Ontario’s adults surveyed had increased their substance or gambling use since the pandemic started.”

Best tool is naxalone

Catton said naloxone remains one of the best tools to save lives from opioid overdoses.

“We continue to work with all community partners to ensure naloxone is available across all communities and to increase the conversation, as a drug strategy, on how we can further support community members and close potential gaps in services,” she said.

The Timmins and area drug strategy urges people who use drugs to never use alone, have someone available to call 911 if an overdose occurs, and carry naloxone. Free Naloxone kits are readily available throughout the area at Porcupine Health Unit offices as well as at many organizations and pharmacies. A list of sites is available here.