A new online opioids harm portal and online drug reporting tool aim to help Peterborough-area health officials tackle the opioid crisis while making the public better aware of the growing issue.
On Thursday, Peterborough Public Health introduced its opioids harm portal and drug reporting tool, which can both be found on the health unit’s website.
The opioids harm portal collects data on opioid poisonings, focusing on deaths, emergency department visits and 911 calls for drug poisonings and distribution of naloxone, which reverses the effects of an overdose, within the health unit’s jurisdiction of Peterborough, Peterborough County, Curve Lake First Nation and Hiawatha First Nation.
The portal will be updated once a month, said Jocelyn Qualtrough, health promoter.
“It’s a portal for the public and our partners to use,” she said. “The idea is we have improved access to data and it will give more insight into what’s happening in the community, who is affected and how the trends are changing. I’m also hoping it will grow some understanding and compassion for those experiencing drug-related harms.”
As of May 1, 2022, the portal reported 17 suspected opioid-related deaths in 2022 in the health unit’s jurisdiction:
- May: one
- April: eight
- March: two
- February: three
- January: three
In 2021 there were 44 suspected opioid overdose deaths.
On average over the last year, a person has died from a drug poisoning every 10 days, the portal reports.
There have been a number of drug alerts issued in 2022, most recently one on June 1 following another spike in emergency department visits for suspected drug poisonings.
There were 36 drug poisoning emergency department visits in May, one more than April’s total, the portal reports.
From June 2021 to May 2022, there have been 444 emergency department visits for drug poisonings. About 56 per cent of those visits were by men. Approximately 55 per cent of all emergency department visits were from people between the age of 25 and 44.
In May there were 31 calls to 911 for drug poisonings and there have been 527 since June 2021.
Qualtrough says the data helps to formulate short-term responses and long-term prevention and harm-reduction strategies.
“When higher than expected numbers of opioid harms are detected, we notify agencies that we work with directly and those agencies who work with people who use drugs in the community at large, and we all get the message out together,” she said.
Medical officer of health Dr. Thomas Piggott says the portal is a key component to help highlight a worsening crisis in the community, noting there has been an increasingly toxic drug supply. However, data can only go so far, he noted.
“Looking at the deaths doesn’t capture the full picture,” he said. “It misses the burden on our health system, on our ambulance providers, on families, friends and people themselves who are using drugs,” he said. “The burdens go beyond just the numbers that we see.
“But understanding and having clear communication on the numbers that we are seeing is a critical component. It’s work we’ve been doing with partners in the community. This really is a team effort and it’s critical.”
A new consumption and treatment services site on Simcoe Street (the former Greyhound Bus station) in Peterborough’s downtown is scheduled to open on Monday.
Drug reporting tool
The drug reporting tool is an online form on the health unit’s website for people to submit an anonymous report about suspected harmful drugs, bad reactions to drugs and other drug-related events happening in the region. All reports are anonymous and no personal information is collected.
Not all questions are required to be answered but the tool does assist health unit staff and community partners to formulate public health actions within their community, including helping issue warnings about a dangerous batch of drugs.
The questions include the type of drug, how it was ingested, the location of an overdose, whether 911 was called, if an individual attended a hospital, whether naloxone was used and whether the victim survived.
“It’s a complementary tool to our data,” said Qualtrough.
Piggott says there isn’t just one piece of data that provides a full picture of the crisis.
“This is another angle getting information directly from the public,” he said.