Reducing Harms, Building Community

For each number there is a face

By Jean Hopkins

In 2023, Guelph and Wellington County experienced the highest number of drug-related health incidents since our local public health agency began tracking the numbers in 2019. 

According to preliminary data, 27 members of our community lost their lives to substances last year, an increase from 22 the previous year. 

Another 439 drug poisoning incidents occurred, which are serious adverse reactions to a substance that often require medical intervention. This is a 17% increase from the previous year. It’s likely that the actual number is higher because some drug-poisoning incidents aren’t reported. 

It’s heartbreaking to see these numbers increase.

It’s important to share this preliminary data so that we can understand what’s happening in our community. Numbers relating to drug poisoning cases locally provide important context for how our community is faring in the bigger picture of Ontario’s and Canada’s drug poisoning crises.

But it’s also important that we remember that for each number, there is a face behind it. Each person whose life has been lost to drug poisoning is loved and missed. They are our children, parents and cousins. They are our co-workers, neighbors and customers of local businesses. 

Drug poisonings can happen quickly and unexpectedly. Many cases are linked to a toxic and inconsistent “street supply” that is too strong or contains unexpected ingredients. 

These events are accidental and we know that the unpredictability of the drug supply is a key factor in the incidents we see in Guelph and Wellington County. Every person buying and using unregulated substances is at risk.

People who use substances are on their own path, with their own unique needs. It’s important they have access to a range of health care options, wherever they are on their journey. 

In addition to harm reduction supplies such as clean syringes and kits that can reverse overdoses in an emergency, community agencies in Wellington County offer other life-saving services such as counselling, treatment programs, peer support and medications. There are also pathways to other supports that are connected to the social determinants of health, such as employment and housing, that help people regain stability.

In the coming months, the Wellington Guelph Drug Strategy, community partners and people with lived experience will share their perspectives with readers of the Wellington Advertiser. 

We hope these stories will bring light to the complex issues our community is facing. We hope they will provide useful information about the agencies doing this work, and ways in which we can keep members of our community safer. 

And if you’re reading our stories and you, or someone you love, could use help or information related to substance use, we hope you will see you are supported with data, evidence-based programming, and compassion. 

There are options available, to meet you wherever you are.

For more information, visit Help Is Here Wellington, or call Here 24/7 at 1-844-437-3247.

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Jean Hopkins is manager of the Wellington Guelph Drug Strategy. This column is presented by the strategy and its community partners with the goal of informing the public and helping to prevent harm from substance use.