By Mike Baker
I’ve lost count of the number of sad, horrific stories I’ve heard in recent years about how a promising young life was destroyed, and sometimes even cut short due to illicit drug abuse.
Unfortunately, there have been a few more added to that list over the past week, with Haliburton County left reeling following a spate of overdoses, which began the week of Aug. 16. Haliburton Highlands OPP informed media they responded to five overdoses in as many days a couple of weeks ago. In four of those instances, the individuals received emergency care and were saved. The fifth wasn’t so lucky.
According to police, this marked the fourth drug-related death in the Highlands already in 2021. These statistics are even more startling when you consider that, through the entirety of last year, we only saw two drug-related deaths in the community.
Even those who aren’t so good with numbers will, I’m sure, be able to quickly realize that this represents a 100 per cent increase from 2020. And we’re only three quarters of the way through the year!
It’s a worrying trend, for sure, and one that Catherine McDonald, a registered nurse and substances and harm reduction coordinator with the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit, says has been apparent for a while. In terms of hospitalizations, McDonald says numbers from HKPR catchment areas had doubled from the 12 month window between April 2020 and March 2021, and the subsequent 12 months from April 2019 to March 2020.
Much of Canada has been dealing with an opioid crisis for the better part of a decade. According to statistics released by the federal government, there were 21,174 apparent opioid-related deaths nationwide from January 2016 to December 2020.
When one breaks down the numbers even further, it’s pretty obvious to see that, as McDonald pointed out, things have gotten drastically worse over the past 18 months – right in line with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Between April and December of last year, there were 5,148 opioid-related deaths in Canada. That number represented an 89 per cent increase from the same time period in 2019, when there were 2,722 deaths.
There are numerous factors at play here – clearly, it’s been a pretty rough go for most people over the past year and a half. COVID-19 has impacted everyone in some way, shape or form. Feelings of depression, isolation, stress and anxiety are through the roof, and it’s really no wonder – here in Ontario, we spent the better part of a year in lockdown, with services drastically depleted and day-to-day distractions such as dine-in restaurants, movie theatres, golf courses and museums completely shuttered.
Society itself, at least for a little while, seemed to completely crumble all around us. From that standpoint, it’s easy to see why these numbers, as concerning as they are, have increased.
So, what can we do about it? First of all, we have to acknowledge that there is a problem. Yes, Haliburton is a small community, and I get the sense that there’s a general feeling amongst the public that issues such as drug abuse aren’t as prevalent here as they are in the big city. Only they are. They always have been. And now we have real, localized statistics to back that fact up.
Today marks International Overdose Awareness Day. There is an event scheduled to take place at Head Lake Park from 10 a.m. to noon. If you have a friend, or a loved one, or you yourself are taking drugs, it might be a good idea to stop by and educate yourself as best you can. There are lots of red flags we can look out for, to help people before it’s too late.
This year’s global theme is ‘Time to Remember, Time to Act’.
I’d like to repeat that message – Haliburton, it’s time to remember those we have so needlessly lost over the years. It’s time we acted, and actually did something about it.