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Opioid overdoses on the rise, health unit reports

Fentanyl pills are seen in this Jan. 28 file photo. POSTMEDIA / The Windsor Star

Growing numbers of opioid-related overdose cases brought to local emergency departments have the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit reminding the public that more than one public health crisis needs attention.

For the first quarter of 2020, opioid-related overdose visits to the region’s ERs were higher than they were during the same time period in both 2018 and 2019, medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed reported on Tuesday.

In May of this year there were 33 confirmed instances of ER visits brought on by opioid overdoses, he said. Nine of those occurred over a 24-hour period on May 16.

From June 1 to June 21, the region had an average of one per day.

“We know from verbal reports from community partners that naloxone (the medication that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose) use is increasing, as well as the number of overdoses responded to in the community,” said Ahmed, who also co-chairs the Windsor-Essex Community Opioid and Substance Strategy.

Stress, anxiety, and isolation experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic “can have a negative impact on substance use, including relapse, increasing use, and risk of overdose,” Ahmed said.

“Combine these stressors with less access to services including mental health and addictions and primary care providers, and positive social support, individuals struggling could quickly develop problematic use that could result in an overdose.”

Dr. Wajid Ahmed, Medical Officer of Health with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit speaks during a press conference on Saturday, March 21, 2020. DAN JANISSE/Windsor Star

People who use opioids and methamphetamines are also at increased risk from COVID-19, he said, because those drugs slow breathing and can cause respiratory damage.

The recent numbers documented by hospital staff do “not capture the number of people who utilized naloxone kits and did not call 911,” he said, indicating more overdoses are occurring than are reflected by local statistics.

Support and social connectedness is a key part of recovery, Ahmed said.

Although many providers continue to offer addictions services, COVID-19 has forced them to change how they deliver those services, he said. The disruption can make navigating a difficult system even harder for individuals looking for help.

Ahmed encouraged those seeking help or support for substance use disorders to talk to their family doctors about treatment options. Those with acute needs who cannot safely wait for treatment can access help through the Mental Health and Addictions Urgent Care Centre at 519-257-5111, ext. 77968. The organization is located at 1400 Windsor Ave., the Canadian Mental Health building.

Appointments with counsellors can be made through Family Services Windsor-Essex by calling 1-888-939-1831. Individuals in crisis can call Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare’s Community Crisis Centre 24 hours a day at 519-973-4435.