Brantford Expositor, March 6, 2019
The Brant County Health Unit has recorded a significant reduction in opioid-related deaths, overdoses and emergency visits since the launch of the Brantford-Brant Community Drugs Strategy.
In 2018, the health unit reported a 35 per cent reduction in EMS responses to opioid overdoses and 44 per cent fewer visits to the emergency department.
Last year, there were 139 EMS responses related to opioid overdoses, compared to 213 in 2017.
There were 118 emergency department visits for opioid overdoses in 2018 compared to 211 in 2017; and 13 deaths from opioid overdoses from January to September of 2018 compared to 25 in 2017.
While city and health unit officials are pleased by the decreasing trend, Brantford Mayor Kevin Davis said more work is necessary.
He will lead a new steering committee created to help combat drug addiction.
“While I’m encouraged by the progress we’ve made as a community to date, we, like other municipalities, need to do more to combat this crisis,” said Davis.
“This challenge is not unique to Brantford, nor is the fact that we can’t do this alone. We need support from other levels of government. With senior leaders of each stakeholder group engaged at the steering committee level, I’m confident that we can act more swiftly and effectively to get the resources our municipalities require to help those in need sooner.”
Members of the steering committee include Brantford-Bramt MP Phil McColeman, Brantford-Brant MPP Will Bouma and representatives from Brant County, Six Nations, the health Unit, Brantford police, Brant OPP, St. Leonard’s Community Services, the Brant Community Healthcare System, the Local Health Integration Network and the Canadian Mental Health Association.
The formation of the committee came from an annual review of the Brantford-Brant County Drugs Strategy, an effort launched in 2017.
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, in 2017 the city’s census metropolitan area, which includes Brantford, Brant and part of Six Nations, had the second-highest rate of hospitalization due to opioid poisoning in Canada. Only Kelowna, B.C., had a higher rate.
Fentanyl — a highly potent and addictive opioid — gets much of the blame for the spike in overdoses. Fentanyl is commonly mixed into opioids sold on the street, so users don’t know the potency of the drugs they are taking.
Dr. Malcolm Lock, Brant’s medical officer of health, said progress has been made to combat the impact of opioid use.
“In 2018, we saw our community partners work hard to increase Naloxone distribution, install needle drop boxes, and enhance harm reduction services,” said Lock. “We are pleased that the work of the drug strategy partners is having an impact on the overall health of our community.”
First-responders in the community are equipped with Naloxone, a drug that helps reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
The local drug strategy includes a partnership between the city and county, local police, St. Leonard’s, the health unit and other health-care agencies and mental health and addiction treatment providers.
Last week, Branford city council approved funding for the first year of the Brantford downtown outreach team pilot program at a cost of $280,000. The team will be made up a nurse practitioner, addictions worker, peer support worker and a housing specialist who will connect with vulnerable people.
The goal is to stabilize people who require treatment and connect them with primary care and, in the long term, into more permanent housing, counselling and medical service.
In a presentation to city councillors in December, Brantford police Chief Geoff Nelson said public concerns about the downtown include discarded needles, encampments, homelessness, vagrancy and unusual behaviours often related to mental illness and addiction.
A more co-ordinated effort is being organized by the health unit to deal with the hazard of carelessly discarded drug needles littering the city.
The health unit provides harm-reduction supplies, including needles, to four sites in Brantford. In 2018, those agencies provided 227,228 needles to individuals. The agencies reported that just 31 per cent of those needles were returned to them.
Among the plans to deal with the issue are a community needle tracking system, a needle return rate surveillance, more community disposal bins for used needles, and community needle sweeps.
Another outcome of the Brantford-Brant Drugs Strategy annual review was a commitment to focus on sustaining funding for the Rapid Access Addictions Media Clinic that opened last September.
The clinic provides easier access for patients seeking treatment for any substance use disorder or addiction. Patients do not need an appointment and are seen on a walk-in basis.
The clinic, located at 347 Colborne St., beside the Grand River Community Health Centre, includes a specialized addictions physician, addictions counsellor, case manager, mental health social worker and Indigenous and mental health addictions counsellor.