Agencies begin working together to address opioid crisis

Troy Shantz

The numbers are staggering.

Last year, 1,326 residents of Sarnia-Lambton were prescribed an opioid for pain. That’s one in six.

Another 1,326 people — one in every 93 people living in Sarnia-Lambton — were treated for an addiction to opiates with prescribed methadone or suboxone.

Forty-seven people were hospitalized for opioid poisoning, five died, and 48 babies were hospitalized for maternal drug addiction in 2016, according to Lambton Public Health.

“Some of the stats were just amazing,” said Lynn Laidler, the executive director of Rapids Family Health Team. “We didn’t realize how high they were.”

In response, a committee began looking at ways the community could reduce drug abuse this summer. It had people from Rapids, Bluewater Health, Lambton Public Health, the city and Sarnia Police.

A couple of weeks ago, representatives from more than 20 agencies met in a brainstorming session to discuss the creation of a Lambton County Drug Strategy.

Laidler said better communication between agencies and with the wider community was identified as one priority. Social media will be used, and some agencies are willing to combine budgets and staff to make it happen, she said.

At Bluewater Health, addiction treatment staff have seen a 300% increase in demand for service since 2014.

The hospital recently announced it is getting $445,000 to create an eight-bed addiction treatment unit, which could be open as soon as January.

The unit is regarded as a stopgap measure until a 24-bed facility with fully integrated drug treatment program can be opened in Sarnia.

“We have a lot of good things, but we can always do more,” said Laidlaw.

The group of agencies plans to meet again Nov. 23 with the goal of announcing at least two directives.