Health Unit reports upswing of Fentanyl-related overdoses in Leeds, Grenville and Lanark

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The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit (LGLDHU) is warning of a rise in Fentanyl-related overdoses in the region.

Although they don’t have specific data for North Grenville, LGLDHU Harm Reduction Coordinator, Jennifer Adams, says it is definitely present in the community. LGLDHU released a statement in April stating that there were 58 overdose reports in Leeds, Grenville and Lanark in the first three months of 2021, 86% of which involved Fentanyl. This is a marked increase from 2020 when they received only 16, with 87% involving Fentanyl in the same three months. The Office of the Chief Coroner has reported over 300 drug-related deaths in Ontario, with 104 reported in the week of March 1-7 alone.

Carfentanil, which has been particularly prevalent in the area, is one of the most toxic analogues of Fentanyl. Some people seek it out specifically; but it is usually found laced in illicit substances like Cocaine or other opioids. Jennifer says it is very uncommon to find a drug that is not contaminated with some analogue of Fentanyl or other substances like benzodiazepines, which are highly addictive. “People aren’t knowingly using it, or they think they’re using one type of Fentanyl when it’s actually another type of Fentanyl,” Jennifer says. “That’s why it becomes so dangerous. It’s basically like Russian roulette. You have no idea how to dose for it, you have no idea how much, how often to use, so people are putting their lives at risk every single time they are using any sort of substance at this point.”

Jennifer says drugs that may contain Fentanyl are very easy for people to access in the community right now, and that the industry is often linked to organized crime. People high up on the supply chain often include Fentanyl or other dangerous substances in their product because it produces a better high or is more addictive. “It goes down to business sense,” she says. “Fentanyl mixed in with something else is going to get a stronger effect, so if one dealer is doing it and one’s not, they’re going to get more customers.” Because these drugs are not regulated, Jennifer says there is also always the issue of cross-contamination. “They’re using the same equipment to maybe prepare and package Cocaine as they are with Fentanyl, and so there’s potential for cross-contamination. It’s not necessarily purposeful, but it is happening.”

Jennifer says the pandemic has definitely played a role in the number of overdoses skyrocketing in the region. With increased isolation, Jennifer hears of and sees cases of people overdosing on Fentanyl multiple times a day. “I’ve been doing this for 11 years and this is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” she says.

Jennifer notes it can be difficult to tell if someone is overdosing unless you know they have been doing drugs. Things like being unconscious, unresponsive, not breathing, not having a pulse or turning blue are all symptoms that can be present with other health conditions. The best thing to do if you think someone may be overdosing on any substance is to call 911. Jennifer says a naloxone kit should also be a standard part of a first aid kit in any home. “You never know, it could be your neighbour that might require it, an aunt, an uncle, your parents, your kids.”

According to Jennifer, municipalities like North Grenville can help prevent Fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths by having honest conversations about the real impact of the drug in the community. The stigma and discrimination that goes on in community agencies and hospitals also needs to be addressed. “We need to bring people out of the underground substance world, because we know when we connect with people and we get people connected and retain them in service, their outcomes are so much better,” she says. If you are struggling with substance abuse and need support, Jennifer says the best thing to do is contact Change Health Care. Their methadone opioid clinics in Brockville, Smiths Falls and Carleton Place also offer wraparound care with counsellors, case managers, a nursing staff and physicians. “They all work for a harm reduction approach and it’s very low barrier. It’s walk-in, no appointments needed for access to the counsellors, myself, the case managers. It’s very very low barrier. You come as you are.”

Jennifer believes that decriminalizing drugs is definitely a piece of the puzzle when it comes to preventing overdoses and drug related deaths. She says the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police is also calling for decriminalization. “We need to start having these conversations about the war on drugs. If we continue to push it underground and criminalize it, we’re going to continue to deal with the deaths.”

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