County ponders new drug strategies

Pam Wright

Local officials are working on a drug and alcohol strategy to combat the impacts of addiction in Sarnia-Lambton.

“We are looking at integrated planning and at what we can do,” said Kevin Churchill, manager of family health at Lambton Public Health.

“We certainly share the deepest concerns about these issues.”

In a report to county council last month, staff said they were identifying which interventions might have the greatest impact, including the possibility of an overdose prevention site.

Lambton County has a higher rate of addiction, opioid and substance misuse than the provincial average, Churchill said.

The number of people using a needle exchange program that operates out of the public health building in Point Edward has continued to rise since it began in 2012.

Last year, 532,600 needles were distributed as part of a harm reduction program to reduce the spread of HIV, hepatitis and other blood-borne infections.

Some 300,000 needles were collected, with 1,890 visits to the clinic.

The goal is to get back as many used syringes as possible, Churchill said.

“We’re concerned needles are being found by the public.”

Another local program is “Patch for Patch,” in which used fentanyl patches must be returned to the pharmacy before a new one is dispensed.

Lambton EMS receives, on average, about one overdose-related call every three days, and six people died of an opioid overdose in 2017, Lambton Public Health says.

It’s believed the death toll would be higher if not for the distribution of 195 anti-overdose naloxone kits between October and December of last year.

Bluewater Health opened a seven-bed withdrawal management unit in January. However, the community is anxious to see work begin on a 24-bed residential facility offering patients a chance at full recovery in their own community.

A site for the centre has been selected but the provincial Health Ministry has not yet given approval.

Health officials say they hope to build on existing partnerships to create a broader drug and alcohol strategy, to help protect residents from the risks associated with drug abuse.