London police have issued a warning to the public about the dangers of drug use, particularly of opioids, after officers responded to eight reported overdoses in the city over the weekend.
Between 12:45 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday, officers responded to eight individuals in six separate incidents who required emergency medical treatment due to possible overdoses after they had ingested or injected drugs, police said Monday.
Fentanyl or heroin was reported to have been involved in four of the six incidents. In one incident, police said one person died as a result of a suspected overdose.
“The London Police Service would like to remind the public of the risks of using drugs, particularly opioids,” said a police media release which also linked to the Middlesex-London Health Unit’s page regarding the use of alcohol and other drugs.
Word of the reported overdoses came just hours after Ontario Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins announced the province would commit $15-million toward hiring more addiction and mental-health workers and distribute more kits with naloxone, the overdose-reversing drug.
Hoskins said this will help communities improve addiction outreach and education and combat overdoses.
“It’s a tragedy that’s impacting families in every community in Ontario, and it crosses all demographics,” he said.
Part of the funding will go to every public health unit in the province to hire up to four more front-line workers each.
“This investment will help municipalities across Ontario better support their community members impacted by opioid use disorder and overdose.”
The plan would also see nearly 80,000 naloxone kits distributed per year through community outreach organizations.
Naloxone is an opioid antidote that can reverse an overdose for approximately 20 minutes to one hour, depending on the strength of the opioid. According to the province, as of March, more than 28,000 free naloxone kits have been dispensed at pharmacies, health units, other community-based organizations, and Ontario correctional facilities.
Locally, paramedics with Middlesex-London EMS administered 47 doses of naloxone in 2015 and had administered 31 by October 2016 when responding to 911 overdose calls, according to a November 2016 report from the Middlesex-London Health Unit.
The same report also details how the number of prescription opioids legally dispensed across the country climbed nearly 24 per cent between 2010 and 2014. A separate report released last month by Health Quality Ontario said that almost two-million Ontarians — close to 14 per cent of the population — filled a prescription for opioids in the 2015/16 fiscal year.
The total number of prescriptions filled by Ontarians has increased from 8.7-million in 2013/14 to nearly 9.2-million in 2015/16, according to the Health Quality Ontario report.
Police and public health officials across Canada and the U.S. have been battling a growing overdose crisis from opioid drugs including fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
Earlier this month, Ontario Provincial Police announced plans to equip all front-line officers with naloxone kits to protect them from potential fentanyl exposure.
The plan would see each OPP officer issued a kit with two doses of naloxone nasal spray, while those working in units including drug enforcement and community street crime would carry a personal kit at all times.
Last week, a report from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) estimated that at least 2,458 Canadians had died in 2016 from reported opioid overdoses, with Western Canada the hardest hit. British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon, and Northwest Territories saw an opioid-related death rate of 10 per 100,000 people, while Canada-wide, the rate was 8.8 per 100,000 people.
The figures, PHAC said, could increase as more data became available.
Last month, in response to the growing number of reported overdose deaths in their province, the Alberta government declared a public health crisis and announced it would establish a 14-member commission and commit an additional $30-million to address the issue.
Although complete figures for 2016 have yet to be released, the Ontario government says 412 opioid-related deaths were recorded in the province in the first six months of the year — more than two people a day. In 2015, 734 opioid-related deaths were recorded in the province, compared to 144 in 1991, according to a report from the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network.
The same report said that between 2006 and 2015, fentanyl’s contribution to opioid-related deaths soared by 548 per cent. It is now the most common cause of lethal overdoses among this class of powerful painkillers. Second on the list is Hydromorphone, which saw a climb of 212 per cent in the same time period.
Locally, the Middlesex-London Health Unit reported 13 and 25 opioid-related deaths in 2014 and 2015, respectively. For 2016, 14 opioid-related deaths had already been reported between January and June. Complete figures for the year have not been released yet.
Responding to criticism that up-to-date real-time opioid overdose data wasn’t readily available to the public or to health-care workers, Hoskins and provincial overdose coordinator Dr. David Williams sent a mandate in February to hospitals in the province with emergency departments calling for such data to be tracked on a weekly basis beginning April 1.
“Beginning April 1, we’ll take another step forward by ensuring hospital opioid overdose data is tracked and shared in near real-time updates,” said the letter, obtained by Global News. “Every hospital and public health unit will have access to the near real-time data, giving experts a more comprehensive understanding of what’s happening on the ground.”
Last month, to make up-to-date opioid-related morbidity and mortality data publicly available, the province unveiled an interactive online tracking system that allows users to visualize and sort data by public health unit, local health integration network (LHIN), age, and sex.
— With files from Andrew Russell, Adam Miller, Allison Vuchnich of Global News, and The Canadian Press
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