Opioid use and emergency calls in relation to opioid overdoses continue to increase across Chatham-Kent.
Chatham-Kent’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Colby believes the decriminalization of recreational drugs could go a long way to help the growing problem.
“In order to address this problem in society, the federal government needs to decriminalize recreational drugs,” says Colby. “We need to bring this out of the shadow of the underworld and the stigma that goes with illegal activities and consider this as more of a public health issue.”
The position is shared by both Dr. Colby personally and the CK Board of Health.
The support to decriminalize recreational narcotics is not a new stance for Dr. Colby or the board, but is being reinforced by some troubling local trends.
Public Health has recently reported continued increases in the number of local emergency room visits and EMS calls related to opioid overdoses.
The number of opioid-overdose related EMS calls and ER visits in the month of May were higher than any previous month on record since tracking began. The year-to-date rate of ER visits was more than doubled the provincial average – 56.4 per 100,000 population in Chatham-Kent as compared to 26.6 per 100,000 across the rest of Ontario.
In May, Chatham-Kent EMS received 31 suspected opioid overdose-related calls, with 72 to date in 2020. CK EMS also responded to five non-opioid drug overdose-related calls in the month of May with 38 calls total in 2020.
The emergency department dealt with 17 opioid overdose-related visits by Chatham-Kent residents in May alone, with 60 total visits this year (or 56.4 per 100,000). Chatham-Kent had four deaths in 2019 related to opioid overdoses.
Across the province, emergency departments had 755 ER visits in the month of May related to opioid-overdoses and 1,283 deaths in 2019.
Many factors tie into the opioid problems, according to Dr. Colby. Those factors include the amount of supply on the street and issues of impurity, as well as law enforcement and the amount of stress in society.
“The enforcement and criminal approach has NOT worked,” he says. “We have seen improvements in other jurisdictions such as Portugal and Uruguay that have completely decriminalized these substances.”
The Medical Officer suggests it would be much safer to make opioids available at the pharmaceutical level.
“It would be far easier to provide pharmaceutical grade opiates administered under safe aseptic conditions to all of the people that have dependent problems than to leave them to the mercy of the black market with impure drug supplies, back alley, filthy injection conditions, trying to find the financial resources to support their dependency for which there is no cure.”
Colby adds that reports indicate 80% of users get dependent because of prescribed opiates.
“They don’t start with any intention of entering the underworld of criminal activity. They end up there from a variety of circumstances. It’s something we DO have to deal with as a society. This is something that we really need to address but we are stymied by the Criminal Code of Canada. It’s is out of date. This is not new. We’ve gone on the record saying this before but that’s what needs to be done.”