The opioid crisis is devastating communities and families across Canada, affecting all ages and socio-economic backgrounds.
Opioids can be addictive, whether prescribed or not. Both men and women die by overdose, but 75% are men, most between the ages of 20 and 59, with a peak age group of 30 to 39. Nationally, more than 10,300 apparent opioid-related deaths occurred between January 2016 and September 2018. During this same period in Ontario, deaths numbered 3,163.
The most recent data show that increasingly, these deaths involved fentanyl, a powerful synthetic substance 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
Fentanyl is cut into various recreational drugs without the user’s knowledge, and was found in 71% of Ontario’s 2018 opioid overdose deaths. A recent Guelph Police seizure of suspected fentanyl tested 98% carfentanil, a drug 100 times more potent than fentanyl.
There is no simple solution to this complex problem, but supervised consumption sites are part of the answer, with their harm reduction approach. Their goal is to prevent overdose deaths, facilitate entry into drug treatment services and reduce the risk of disease transmission from practices such as needle sharing. They reduce the number who consume and discard equipment in public places.
Naloxone kits and training are offered. Naloxone, a fast-acting drug, can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose when given right away. The effects, however, can wear off and may need to be repeated. Both Canadian and international evidence clearly shows that supervised consumption sites help to save lives and improve health. Research has found they are cost effective and do not increase drug use and crime in the surrounding area.
Why do people choose to use supervised consumption sites? There are a number of reasons.
They provide a safe, clean place to consume illegal substances, with access to sterile drug use equipment and safe disposal. Drugs can be checked to detect possible fatal contaminants. There is emergency medical care in case of overdose or cardiac arrest.
Testing can be done for infectious diseases like HIV, Hepatitis C and sexually transmitted infections. Education is offered on harms of drug use, safer consumption practices and safer sex.
Information or referrals can direct clients to such services as drug treatment and rehabilitation, housing, mental health treatment, needle exchange programs and social welfare programs.
The Community Health Centre in Guelph is home to a supervised consumption site. In rural areas, health care practitioners and pharmacists can be consulted.
You may wish to find further information at Canada.ca, which offers “Awareness Resources for Opioids,” including an array of videos, posters and tool kits.
This article was written by Janet Fowler, member of the Open Mind committee and former director of nursing with the Wellington Dufferin Guelph Public Health unit.
The “Open Mind” column is sponsored by community partners who are committed to raising awareness about mental health, reducing stigma and providing information about resources that can help. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For local mental health resources/information, visit www.mdsgg.ca or call 1-844-HERE247.