Medical Officer Dr. David Colby addressing Chatham-Kent Council on Monday, September 13, 2021.

Chatham-Kent is in an opioid crisis.

That message from Dr. David Colby, Chatham-Kent’s medical officer of health, who made a presentation at Monday night’s online council meeting.

Public health was asked to come to council to do a presentation on the opioid crisis in Chatham-Kent.

“The criminality model of substance control has been a dismal failure in our society,” Dr. Colby says. “It’s time to remove the stigma and treat this as a medical problem.”

Colby called the local opioid crisis a second pandemic and says statistics show that the crisis has gotten worse locally in the past few months, noting that Chatham-Kent had three overdose deaths last week.

Figures from Public Health show between 2016 and 2020, the local rate of opioid-related visits to the emergency department increased more than 280%, with the local rate of opioid poisoning deaths jumping over 400%.

Colby talked about harm reduction measures, including decriminalization, which he admitted is a last resort of public health departments.

“That is a basically an admission that we can’t fix this,” Colby says. “We must rely on harm reduction and also preventative approaches.”

Council has now endorsed a decriminalization approach to drug policy and will lobby the federal and provincial governments for support for harm reduction strategies.