Health Unit Says Lived Experience Is Helping Guide Opioid Battleplan

Simcoe Muskoka Opioid Strategy Bringing Many Heads Together To Tackle Issue

Amid discussion of having Barrie’s opioid crisis declared a public health emergency, the local health unit says talking to those who have lived through it is vital in crafting a plan of attack.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and North Simcoe Muskoka LHIN are on the front line of the community’s drug crisis, and were in front of City Council Monday night to brief officials on the battle with an update on its Opioid Strategy.

Related: Barrie Stops Short of Declaring Opioid Crisis A Public Health Emergency

A number of services came together in 2017 to discuss how to combat the rising opioid issue; the Simcoe Muskoka Opioid Strategy was borne of that meeting. Dr. Rebecca Van Iersel of the regional LHIN says the Simcoe Muskoka Opioid Strategy brought a number of social services together to share information “The purpose of this, going into this, we had desperate systems that weren’t talking to each other when there was an issue.” says Van Iersel “so one of the working groups is actually to establish a subset to bring all that data in to an early warning system.”

The Opioid Strategy allows different services to connect and share data

The presentation contained a survey highlighting several key problems leading to opioid misuse, while over 67% of respondents say mental health/illness was a major factor. Trauma, medical prescription, easy access to opioids, and lack of addiction treatment were also high-ranked in the Simcoe Muskoka Opioid Strategy’s Lived Experience Survey. The Health Unit is highlighting the stories of those who use or have used drugs through a series of short videos on its website called Real People.

A sharp increase in the number of opioid overdose-related emergency room visits is, according to the Health Unit, strong indication of the need for this Opioid Strategy. The highest spike was in Barrie. The rise in overdoses began in 2015, which coincides with the introduction of fentanyl in the street drug supply.

According to the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, there were 36 opioid-related deaths in Simcoe-Muskoka in 2016. That number jumps to 78 in 2017, representing a 70% increase. Numbers from Ontario’s Chief coroner are only available until June of 2018, but indicate 35 opioid-related deaths had been reported the first half of last year.

Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit. Opioid deaths. 2018 numbers available here

The Simcoe Muskoka Opioid Strategy comes in five pillars: Prevention, Treatment, Harm Reduction, Enforcement, and Emergency Management. Designers of this plan say the impact of peer response, the voices of people with lived experience, cannot be underestimated in shaping the community opioid response. It also calls for evidence-based planning, surveillance, and extensive monitoring and evaluation as it moves forward.

The plan was rolled out in 2018; short- and long-term goals are expected to be in place by the year 2020. One of the most highly sought goals is a supervised consumption site. The SMDHU is in the midst of an application for one, in partnership with the Gilbert Centre, and the Simcoe County branch of the CMHA.

Related: Weigh in On a Downtown Barrie Safe Injection Site

No matter how much planning goes into fighting the opioid issue, Dr. Van Iersel says those who use drugs need to want help first, but at least there’s a chain of communication when they do reach out. “For the most part, people need to want treatment. They need to know they need to get connected to it. If somebody was knowing that they were in the point in their diseased state that they needed help, that they wanted help, then they’d have to seek it. Then, within the health system, we’d have to have the connections in place where its easy for whatever provider that they reach out to first to know how to get them to that treatment.”

The presentation came before council by request; A November 2018 request was made by City Hall to have the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit update the city on its opioid strategy.