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More overdoses in Grey-Bruce as opioid threat continues

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Twelve non-fatal drug overdose reports since Sept. 1 caused the Grey Bruce Health Unit to sound the latest alarm about the damage drugs are doing in Grey-Bruce.

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Five of the overdoses were in Owen Sound and the others were in Meaford, Southgate, Hanover, Kincardine and South Bruce, said Katie Cuillerier, who recently became manager of the substance harm-reduction program at the health unit.

All reports, received between Sept. 1 and Sept. 9, came from emergency medical services and concerned people aged 21 to 55.

There were 11 people involved in the 12 overdose reports. In one case, two overdoses were reported involving one individual and the overdoses are believed to have been intentional.

Two people had Naloxone, which can temporarily mitigate the drug’s effects, administered before help arrived, Cuillerier said. For every call, the individual had a history of drug use. No other details were available, she said in an interview Friday.

“I think it’s clear that 12 EMS calls in 10 days is quite concerning. So we would just urge the public to follow the advice within the overdose alerts,” Cuillerier said.

There have been at least 10 fatal overdoses reported in Grey-Bruce so far this year. Fentanyl and carfentanil are assumed to be involved.

Last year fatal ODs spiked to 24, way up from 16 in 2019, seven in 2018 and 11 in 2017.

The 2020 Grey-Bruce Opioid Response Plan notes the number of opioid-related emergency department visits quadrupled between 2003 and 2018. It’s understood some number of overdoses aren’t reported and some victims never go to hospital.

The health unit issued what it calls an Opioid Overdose Alert to inform system partners. It’s issued when there are three overdoses in a 48-hour period. A health unit news release Wednesday reported eight people who had overdosed in the previous five days. Thursday another three were added.

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The release said all street drugs should be deemed highly toxic and fatal. For the first batch of overdoses, fentanyl was suspected in six cases.

Public health advice to drug users includes pleas for people not to use drugs alone and not to use at the same time as someone else they’re with. If using alone, call the overdose prevention line at 1-888-688-6677 for someone to wait on the line while using.

Avoid mixing drugs, including alcohol, use smaller amounts to check the strength of the drug, and use less after not having used for a while, the health unit advises.

Naloxone kits are free and should be obtained by drug users to help protect against an overdose. About 50 people accepted a free kit when they were made available by the health unit at the Owen Sound Farmers’ Market, she noted.

They’re also available at pharmacies and among other agencies which partner with the health unit.

The health unit says the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act provides protection from simple possession charges when 911 is called for an overdose.

Asked what follow-up would be done with the 11 people who overdosed, Cuillerier said little would be possible by health unit staff. Staff don’t learn much personal health information about those who have overdosed.

It’s community partners, such as the Canadian Mental Health Association, Safe ‘n Sound drop-in centre in downtown Owen Sound, and EMS and police, who would follow up, she said.

Health unit staff do their own outreach too, at times going out to places where they anticipate finding people at risk of overdosing, she said. This includes regularly visiting certain apartment complexes, to ensure people have the proper harm reduction supplies and Naloxone available, Cuillerier said.

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