Frontline workers say opioid data is just the tip of the iceberg | Catch My Job


“Honestly, it’s so hard to track (opioid-related deaths) because it happens so often,” says the center’s executive director, David Busby

With the opioid epidemic showing little sign of abating, what do emergency workers face every day in the Barrie area?

The rate of opioid-related deaths in January, February and March of this year shows Simcoe-Muskoka above the provincial average and among the worst regions in Ontario, behind only Toronto, Peel Region and Hamilton, according to the latest data from the Office. the chief coroner.

According to preliminary data from the Simcoe Muskoka County Health Unit, there were 33 confirmed and probable opioid-related deaths in the region in the first three months of 2022.

As dire as that information is, many first responders say those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Barrie Police Const. Jamie Westcott, who works in the community safety and wellbeing team, sat down with him Barrie Today to discuss what officers can see on a daily basis.

Westcott said they average two to three calls a day and think that’s just the beginning.

“It’s like an iceberg, isn’t it? If we have two to three calls a day, that’s what gets reported or detected. “The bottom line is what’s not being reported, so you can imagine what’s going on without our knowledge,” Westcott said.

Westcott says the number of opioid calls per day varies and can change on weekends as well as pay days.

“I deal with social disorders and so when I deal with people, I can tell if they’ve just been paid.” There is a difference,” he said. “Certain things happen to them during that first week of getting into the money – paydays make a huge difference.

Westcott and other local officers carry naloxone (Narcan), a nasal spray that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses. Officers can sometimes encounter what he called “belligerence” from someone brought back from the dead.

“Fentanyl will slow down your respiratory system, so we have to look for signs.” “We’re checking for pulse, breathing, and if necessary, we’ll inject Narcan into the nose and into the bloodstream,” Westcott said. “The problem is when someone wakes up from it, they immediately go into withdrawal, which is sometimes called drug sickness.”

“We see that people don’t want to go to the hospital and get better because they need it so much. They don’t want to lose or if they want to because of the Narcan shot, they get angry,” he added.

Westcott said community partners dealing firsthand with the city’s drug problem are pushing for harm reduction, similar to how methadone was used instead of heroin, to keep people from falling into withdrawal and keep them safe.

As for first responders, he says there are different strategies and everyone has a different approach.

“Personally, when I go on a call, I have to protect myself and not be a sponge, taking on all that trauma. It’s really sad when you come to a call and someone has passed or just revived. But you have to shift gears and do the work,” Westcott said. “That human element still kicks in, and I often sit back and wonder where it all went wrong for this person and countless others dealing with this addiction.”

In the 25 months of available data since the start of the pandemic – from March 2020 to March 2022 – there have been 323 opioid-related deaths in Simcoe-Muskoka. This is more than 75 percent more than the 182 opioid-related deaths in the 25 months before the pandemic began — from February 2018 to February 2020.

Sarah Mills, who is the acting deputy chief of paramedic services for Simcoe County, says about 80 percent of calls during the year are assisted by naloxone.

“There really isn’t a point.” “It appears to have been a gradual and steady increase in the number of calls,” she said.

Mills has been in the paramedic field for 20 years, and while he’s no longer on the front lines, he hears from his co-workers that it’s a challenge.

“These are very complex calls with a lot of unknowns.” Scenes and people can be unfamiliar and it’s difficult to say the least,” she said. “Our staff have a lot of training to help with that and are able to implement that training on a day-to-day basis.”

For the past two years or so, the David Busby Center — which is a nonprofit organization that helps people experiencing homelessness and sometimes drug addiction — has used the image of a butterfly to mark someone dying in the community they serve. When the organization and those who use their services experience an overdose or death from toxic drugs, Busby places a butterfly on their social media channels, on their walls or in their windows.

said Busby Center Executive Director Sarah Peddle Barrie Today there have been too many butterflies this year, with around 75 lives lost so far.

“Honestly, it’s so hard to keep track because it happens so often,” Peddle said. “We’re fortunate that our team and teams in other community partners are trained to reverse overdoses because we see it so much.” Otherwise, we would lose many more people.”

Peddle emphasized that this is not Barry’s problem, as it happens everywhere and the prejudice surrounding it affects all people dealing with addiction.

“It’s unfortunate because some look at it as the fault of the person, the fault of the person struggling with addiction, but it really isn’t,” she said. “There are so many things from policy issues, health care issues, housing issues and ultimately it’s a human issue. We absolutely must treat people with dignity and compassion.”

Barrie Fire Chief Cory Mainprise says he’s seen the crisis worsen since about 2016. The fire department now responds to opioid overdose calls “on an almost daily basis,” he added.

“The numbers are still very high and a lot of them seem to be focused on the inner city, but we’re seeing more and more outside that part of the city,” Mainprize said Barrie Today.

While some may see the overdose problem as a problem for those experiencing homelessness, Mainprize says that’s not the case.

“The opioid epidemic is not isolated to the homeless or vulnerable population. “We see overdoses in all different socioeconomic groups and it certainly doesn’t discriminate,” the fire chief said.

A Consumption Monitoring Site (SCS) is proposed for 11 Innisfil St., directly behind Barrie Fire Headquarters. The Simcoe Muskoka County Health Unit and the Simcoe County Branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association are the lead agencies behind the local application.

SCS provides a safe area and sterile equipment for individuals to use pre-obtained medications under the supervision of healthcare staff. Consumption means taking opioids and other drugs by injecting, smoking, snorting, or taking them orally.

The facility has Health Canada approval but is still awaiting provincial approval and funding.

City council approved the site in June 2021, and Health Canada recently approved an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA), which would allow SCS staff at the facility to test and handle drugs without any criminal sanctions.


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