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Opioid crisis: City continues to grapple with drugs, addiction

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Pam Wright

Being impacted by opioid addiction in Sarnia-Lambton is inevitable, says the head of Sarnia Police’s vice unit.

“Someone in your circle will be affected,” Sgt. John Pearce explained in recent talks to the Golden ‘K’ Kiwanis Club and Central United Church Forum.

“It’s a guarantee. There are no barriers — no boundaries.”

At 16.5 percent, Pearce said Sarnia-Lambton leads the province in opioid prescriptions per capita, in addition to the most babies born addicted, per capita.

The veteran police officer can’t nail down why opioid use is so prevalent here, but attributes it in part, to over-prescribing. Backed by pharmaceutical giants, opioid prescription became a popular treatment for pain.

That’s scary, he explained, as you can become addicted after a one-time use and 14 percent of Sarnia-Lambton residents have filled an opioid prescription.

Overworked physicians carrying too many patients can be part of the problem too, Pearce said.

“Opioids only mask the pain,” he explained. “They don’t’ resolve the problem.”

The demand for street opioids, caused in part by Ontario’s move to create a tamper-proof replacement for OxyContin — set up a demand for the cheaper heroin, and the yet-more powerful fentanyl.

According to Pearce, abuse of the drug — which is prescribed mainly to cancer patients in severe pain — started when addicts discovered ways to smoke and inject it.

Designed to administer the dose over a 72-hours period, patches are injected or smoked by addicts in five minutes.

Pearce said dealing them is lucrative. Only $40 for a prescription, a patch nets $800 on the street — up from $400 only two years ago.

“It’s based on supply and demand,” he explained.

This led to an increase in the smuggling of illegal fentanyl from China. It’s then mixed or “cut” in backstreet labs with zero quality control.

That’s why a tiny amount can kill, Pearce said, adding it’s the reason for the spike in overdose deaths.

Pearce likened taking fentanyl to Russian Roulette, but addicts don’t care, he said.

“Addicts are willing to die to get high.”

They are also willing to commit violent and brazen crimes. Pearce said opioid addiction is at the heart of a spike in pharmacy robberies in Sarnia-Lambton.

Sadly, said Pearce, there’s a bigger monster on the horizon. Carfentanil — a drug 4,000 times stronger than heroin that’s used to sedate large animals— has been found in London and St. Thomas.

An amount equal to a couple of grains of salt can kill you, Pearce said.

“It’s just a matter of time before it gets here.”

Residents can do their part to lessen the impact of opioid-related crime. Keep prescriptions under lock and key, and return unused pain medication to the pharmacy.

“Safeguard your things,” he added. “If it’s not locked, tied or strapped down, it can disappear.” The recent opening of Bluewater Health’s temporary residential withdrawal management unit last is a big step forward in fight, Pearce said, but more must be done.

Awareness and education remain the best tools to fight addiction, he said.



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