News

Community session on Thursday night puts spotlight on drug problem

By Jennifer Bieman, The London Free Press

Photo illustration

Photo illustration

SIMCOE - 

From Sarnia to Simcoe, the scourge of fentanyl knows no bounds.

It’s turning up in big cities and small towns too – in patches, pills and powder – causing a spike in overdose calls at the St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital and in Norfolk County.

The synthetic opioid more potent than morphine is, police say, getting more and more common too.

“It’s pretty prevalent across the province. And I guess the issue we’re going to have is making sure people know the risks associated with the use of fentanyl,” said Norfolk OPP Const. Ed Sanchuk.

“Fentanyl is lethal in quantities as small as two milligrams. That’s equal to 32 grains of salt or seven poppy seeds. This is an extremely dangerous drug … It has the potential to kill you.”

Plain words, just days after London police issued a public warning after eight overdoses in just 48 hours. One was fatal and four were linked to fentanyl and heroin use.

It’s news resonating 100 kilometres away in Sarnia, where police pulled 15 grams of heroin off the street early Tuesday morning. Since fentanyl can be easily mixed into other drugs, police are urging the public to be vigilant.

“The suspicion that the heroin could be laced with fentanyl is obviously alarming … They have no idea what they’re diving into. It’s a Molotov cocktail,” said Det. Sgt. John Pearce, head of Sarnia Police Services’ vice unit.

“It doesn’t take much to draw an inference that we could be dealing with one of the same product.”

There is a lot of guessing going on, not by police but by drug users themselves. Fentanyl powder is benign-looking, odourless and easily hidden in other drugs – and when it is, it can have grave consequences.

“People are rolling the dice,” said Sanchuk.

“There’s been issues where you see some type of fentanyl being mixed in with, more than likely cocaine now … It’s very, very scary.”

Sanchuk’s region is no stranger to drug overdoses. Emergency calls to Norfolk EMS doubled from 37 to 74 between 2015 and 2016. Though not all are opioid or fentanyl related, in just the first three months of 2017, the emergency responders had already attended 23.

With overdoses on the rise, Norfolk police, EMS and health officials are turning their attention to public awareness.

A community information event entitled Let’s Talk About Opioids is being held at the Simcoe library on Thursday, June 15 from 6 to 8 p.m. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

The goal of the session is to ‘raise awareness about illicit drug use, overdoses and opioids’ in the community. Those impacted by drug use will tell their personal stories and community experts will also share in the discussion.

Oxford County is also working to raise awareness.

Hoping to stave off the onslaught of overdoses gripping much of southwestern Ontario, Oxford EMS and their community partners are pouring time and effort into getting the word out.

“We’re hoping that education that’s been happening, along with media coverage, that the message is getting out there,” said Ben Addley, manager of Oxford County Paramedic Services.

“That would be ideal, that people are seeing and hearing the risks and how significant they are.”

The biggest message of all might just be that fentanyl is no longer a distant threat. Since the start of the year, Elgin-St. Thomas EMS has responded to three opioid overdoses. Two patients were given emergency antidote naloxone – a drug all front-line OPP and select Sarnia police officers now carry.

After 28 years in policing, and seven as the head of Sarnia’s drug unit, Pearce said the volatile and deadly opioid is a game changer.

“When I first got into drug enforcement it was in the mid-90s. I never thought I’d see this,” he said.

“It’s not a GTA, Golden Horseshoe problem … It’s right in your backyard. People hear there’s a big crisis out in British Columbia, but we’re about to have a crisis here in Ontario.”

— St. Thomas Times-Journal