News

Fentanyl crisis topic of forum

By Michelle Ruby, Brantford Expositor

Fentanyl (File Photo)

Fentanyl (File Photo)

The executive director of Brant Family and Children's Services said rising fentanyl use in the city is increasing the number of children in the agency's care.

Andrew Koster said a baby was unattended in a car for several hours recently after two adults overdosed on the opioid pain medication, which is causing a public health crisis across the country.

"Last week, there was someone who needed to be revived using the antidote," said Koster.

"Families that have drug addictions are difficult to deal with. Fentanyl is such a dangerous drug. People go downhill very fast. By the time we find out about someone on fentanyl, they are usually in pretty bad shape."

In one day last October, Brantford police and paramedics were called to three separate incidents involving four people who overdosed on fentanyl. That day was similar to an overnight incident in June when there were four fentanyl overdoses and one death in the city.

The crises led local agencies into roundtable discussions about how to save the lives of those who overdose and how to protect front-line workers from being inadvertently affected.

Koster is worried about keeping children safe.

"A large percentage of our clients are addicted to drugs," he said. "There is a danger in having fentanyl in a house where there are children. It can go through the skin and the lethal amount is a lot less for a toddler than an adult."

City police officers and other front-line workers are equipped with naloxone, an emergency medication that reverses the effects of an overdose from opioids such as fentanyl, heroin, methadone and morphine.

"If you're searching someone or attending someone in medical distress, you can be contaminated and a very small amount of fentanyl can have an incredibly dangerous affect," Brantford Police Chief Geoff Nelson said earlier.

Naloxone kits that can be taken home can be obtained free and confidentially from the Brant County Health Unit and from some local pharmacies.

Fentanyl and other opioid use is the topic of discussion at the 7th annual addictions and mental health forum on Feb. 24, hosted by St. Leonard's Community Services.

Speakers at the forum will be OPP Det. Cont. Chris Auger who will discuss pharmaceutical trends in diversion and abuse; Kari Whitelaw of St. Joseph Healthcare in Hamilton who will share experiences working with people using crystal methamphetamine; and a representative from the health unit who will talk about harm reduction in opioid drug use, including the use of naloxone.

Anne Coombe, director of clinical services for St. Leonard's, said the agency is seeing an increase in the number of clients seeking treatment for opioid use. In total, they see about 1,000 clients a year for substance abuse counselling and other services.

"It has become an increasingly serious issue not just in our community but across the province and country," Coombe said of fentanyl.

She said other drugs, including heroin, oxycontin, and percocet, can contain varied amounts of fentanyl.

"People are on the street buying oxys that are full of fentanyl and they're not aware," said Coombe. "And it might not be the same amount they're purchasing today that they purchased last week.

"Fentanyl is a very powerful drug. It's 100 times more powerful than morphine."

Koster voiced his concerns at Ontario budget consultations in Hamilton last November asking that more money be earmarked to deal with the fentanyl crisis.

"I'd like to see more addiction services and more counsellors being financed," he said. "It's not just about getting the people who sell drugs. There will always be people with addictions who need help."

The federal government has acknowledged the threat. In November, Health Minister Jane Philpott, along with many of her provincial and territorial counterparts, jointly committed to respond to "a serious and growing opioid crisis," including an Opioid Action Plan this year.

Coombe is expecting about 220 people to attend the addictions and mental health forum, including police, paramedics, and other workers who have contact with those suffering addiction. The event is open to anyone.

"It's a really great opportunity to help people understand the seriousness of the issue and the supports and services available in the community," said Coombe. "I think it's just the tip of the iceberg as far as getting mobilized."

The forum will be held at Laurier Brantord's Research and Academic Centre on Feb. 24 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The cost is $25. A light breakfast and lunch is provided. Register at www.st-leonards.com

mruby@postmedia.com