Fighting the opioid crisis is a community effort

Ottawa Fire Services chief Gerry Pingitore and Mayor Watson.

Ottawa Fire Services chief Gerry Pingitore and Mayor Watson.

by Mayor Jim Watson

For some time now, the City of Ottawa has been facing a serious public health crisis in relation to the misuse and overdose of opioid drugs.

Statistics show that each year, 30 opioid overdose related deaths happen in our city. The recent emergence of illicit fentanyl as a drug filler puts even more people at risk of overdose.

Illicit fentanyl is much more toxic than other pharmaceutical opioids and because it is odorless, tasteless and invisible to the naked eye, there is no easy way to know if drugs have been cut with fentanyl. A very small amount can cause a fatal overdose.

With tragedies already tearing our communities apart, it is clear that we must work with community partners on a responsive multifaceted opioid strategy.

Over the last few months, there has been an important dialogue between municipalities and upper levels of government on how best to coordinate efforts that will lead to a reduction of overdose deaths across Canada, including Ottawa.

The Province of Ontario recently announced new base funding of $350,000 for Ottawa Public Health (OPH) to directly support our local substance misuse strategy. The province also announced the distribution of almost 80,000 additional naloxone kits (the medication that can temporarily reverse an opioid overdose) per year to front-line organizations.

We know that access to naloxone can save lives. In the last year, 160 pharmacies have collectively distributed more than 4,000 naloxone kits in Ottawa alone. The city is facilitating training on how to respond to an overdose using naloxone for staff and volunteers at Ottawa’s shelters, downtown bars and festivals.

Additionally, firefighters at all 45 fire stations in the City of Ottawa have recently completed training on how to administer naloxone and all City of Ottawa fire trucks now carry naloxone on board. We are also preparing for Ottawa Police Service members to administer naloxone when needed.

But we must also tackle the roots of this crisis. Through public education, drug enforcement, and by providing better access to affordable housing, mental health support and clear pathways out of poverty, we can make a significant difference.

Ottawa Public Health has been at the forefront of the fight on the opioid crisis. Last November, its Overdose Prevention and Response Task Force (OPRTF) launched a collaborative public education and awareness campaign called StopOverdoseOttawa.ca.

Since its launch, this site has recorded over 25,000 visits. OPH is also engaging with all four Ottawa school boards, the Ottawa Police Service, Rideauwood Addictions and Family Services, and Maison Fraternité, as well as student leaders, to develop a youth-to-youth approach to better engage our youth.

Through age-appropriate presentations to Grade 4 to 12 students, we have reached close to 6,000 students and provided invaluable information on the risks of opioid use and misuse.

I am confident that our shared goals and collaborative efforts will translate into a decrease in drug misuse and overdose in time.

More information about counterfeit pills, overdose prevention, naloxone and local treatment resources can be found at www.StopOverdoseOttawa.ca.