‘It has a big impact’: Ontario city taking national lead on opioid addiction crisis

This video appears in partnership with @MarilynPenman.

More than 80% of people killed in Canada have used illegal drugs, such as opioids and methamphetamine, since they were 18.

Almost half are from urban Canada and nearly a third are from smaller cities and towns.

The city of Ottawa has experienced a severe spike in overdoses — as many as 24 per day in the first quarter of 2018.

Government health officials in Ottawa are feeling the strain on the city’s health system.

“Our streets are safer because you had Mayor Watson and the health authority from April through November [2017] and I think they were able to make a difference in our public health terms and although we had to encounter some challenges in that work,” said Dr. Daniel Jutras, an epidemiologist and oncologist, in a briefing with journalists Wednesday.

In 2013, the city had to hire a new overdose-response team and add 26 outreach workers to the city’s street teams.

The additional crews were able to reverse at least 11 overdoses, said Jutras.

A city of 607,000, Ottawa has more than 1,200 overdose cases a year and nearly 100 people are admitted to a hospital every day, according to its health department.

#Ottawa is taking a historic step in taking on the opioid epidemic. Learn more: https://t.co/qvT1F6sEaD pic.twitter.com/Vj2X4XsjXT — City of Ottawa (@CityOttawa) May 21, 2018

The opioid crisis has become a regional problem in Canada. Cities in Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec each report having overdose cases a week, said Jutras.

Ottawa can act as a model for Canada to increase access to naloxone, a rapid-reversal antidote, he said.

The number of people using drugs in Canada is increasing, largely due to supply, in addition to the higher incidence of fatalities, said Jutras.

But it’s an “extremely slow progress” situation, he said.

“One of the real issues is that the needs here, the push for success in trying to take a leadership role has not been matched with public policy and by people in the community to really start to deliver on the delivery of appropriate interventions for dealing with a serious public health issue that the city is dealing with every day.”

The city has taken steps to help curb the opioid overdose epidemic, such as setting up a “harm reduction and mental health outreach team” but it can help more by increasing access to naloxone, said Coun. Jean Cloutier, a leader on Ottawa’s drug crisis response, to CNN.

“We all know that the crisis in our country is unique compared to other countries. It’s also unique compared to other Canadian cities. But what’s distinct here is that for us, it’s happening every day,” he said.

“We also need to know where these drugs are coming from, because there’s a large cartel that has infiltrated the country’s supply chain … and there is evidence of another cartel.”

He added: “In addition to the drug crisis, we’re getting reports of refugee workers and nannies and relatives being abused and so on. It has a big impact and also creates the vulnerability to addictions for even those people who’ve been part of our community for a long time.”

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