QUEEN’S PARK - Doug Ford must stop ignoring the opioid crisis in Northern Ontario and take action now as more people continue to die, and families and communities continue to suffer, said Northern Ontario NDP MPPs in the following open letter sent to Ford on Tuesday:
March 9, 2021
Premier Doug Ford
Legislative Bldg Rm 281,
Queen's Park, Toronto, ON M7A 1A1
Via email: [email protected]
We write to you today regarding the ongoing opioid overdose crisis in Northern Ontario. Our communities are suffering, families are struggling and people are dying. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, opioid related incidents continue to rise. The situation is alarming in every community of Northern Ontario.
For instance, Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre reported that it had treated 262 patients for opioid overdoses last year and that many other incidents have not yet been reported. Similarly, Timmins had 29 opioid-related deaths in 2020; and, from January 2020 to August 2020 at least 60 residents in the Sudbury and Manitoulin districts died from an opioid-related overdose (nearly double the amount over the same period during the previous year, where 36 residents were lost).
Although the statistics continue to climb, it’s critical to recognize that these are not numbers – they are PEOPLE. People who are struggling with mental health and addiction. People who are being preyed upon by dealers. People who are feeling lost because they don’t know where to turn to for help. People who are trying to get help for themselves; for friends or family – and feeling abandoned.
Recently, Whitefish River First Nation sent a public letter to the community outlining these concerns. It states:
“Why are so many of our people losing their way? What is at the root of this spiral into substance abuse that disconnects people from their very spirits? We have to acknowledge that abuse, in its many forms, often lies underneath addiction. When you can’t cry out, when you have nowhere to turn and no one to trust, drugs can offer the illusion of relief.”
A major issue we face in rural Northern Ontario is the lack of services. The few programs available in urban centers are often not available to individuals from outside their boundaries. Rural areas of the North need mental health infrastructure adapted to their population needs. Right now people seeking mental health and addiction services are left unsupported.
This needs to change. Mental health, addiction, consumption treatment and overdose prevention services continue to play a vital role in our healthcare system. They help the most marginalized in our communities and they must be accessible to all northerners.
Some simple and concrete steps the government can take today to help address the opioid crisis include:
- Declaring the opioid crisis a public health emergency and breaking the stigma of substance use;
- investing in harm reduction strategies immediately;
- working with municipalities and Local Services Boards to address mental health and addiction issues in their communities;
- funding the mental health and addiction infrastructure needed to bring equity of access to the people of the North, including more safe beds and 24 hour services for treatment;
- addressing the social determinants of health of people living with an opioid addiction and
- expediting the approval process for supervised consumption sites in the north.
Premier, you and your government must take action now to prevent more opioid-related deaths in the North. Opioids impact more than just the individual. All of our communities are hurting. Stop ignoring this crisis and step up for the people of Ontario now.