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Unprecedented team effort aimed at local drug and alcohol use

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Cathy Dobson

A new mobile bus equipped with medical professionals and two examination rooms will be on the road throughout Sarnia-Lambton in a matter of month to care for people who use drugs, have addictions or are homeless.

“The bus has arrived and will be on the road soon,” said Kathy Bresett, executive director of the North Lambton Community Health Centre (NLCHC). “It’s going to care for people where they live.”

“It really is very exciting.”

The bus is being made possible through a collaboration of the local Canadian Mental Health Association, Bluewater Health and Bresett’s agency. It will be manned by three health professionals including a nurse practitioner, an RPN and an addictions worker who will travel to rural and urban communities across the county.

The bus is a great example of how local agencies can come together to address Sarnia-Lambton’s critical drug and substance abuse issues, Bresett said during a press conference Wednesday.

And many more initiatives can be expected now that 23 agencies that deal with various drug-related issues are joining forces to battle problematic substance use, said Dr. Karalyn Dueck, Lambton’s Medical Officer of Health.

“It is a truly collaborative effort,” she said during the press conference to announce the new Lambton Drug & Alcohol Strategy. “This strategy is fit to suit local needs and will work on multiple levels…”

In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, the number of opioid-related deaths in Sarnia-Lambton peaked at 43 overdoses. That number came down slightly in 2021 when 38 local deaths were recorded. The latest stats from 2022 indicate 21 deaths from drug-related overdoses in the first eight months. Apart from the death toll, drug and alcohol abuse is related to mental health problems, crime, violence, homelessness and other social issues.

Michael Gorgey

“It’s really, really scary,” said Mike Gorgey, manager of public health promotion for Lambton Public Health.

“There’s a lot going on (to address addiction) with the opening of Ryan’s House, the detox beds at the hospital and expanded outreach programs,” Gorgey said. “There’s an outreach nurse working now at the community level.”

The new Lambton Drug and Alcohol strategy announced Wednesday will complement those other initiatives. It brings together experts from 23 local agencies who will determine what more can be done and find a “Lambton solution,” Gorgey said.

The strategy is a 10-year plan that won’t solve the problem overnight, Gorgey said.
An important aspect of it relates to local youth and finding healthier alternatives to drug use for them. Watching for early signs of substance abuse is critical, as is decreasing youth access to substances, said Rebound’s Michelle Holbrook.

“There is a lot to do,” she said. “And we need to do this as a community…If we invest early on in people’s lives, they are going to have the tools to say no and have the ability to deal with whatever stuff is going on in their lives.”

From a policing perspective, it’s time to start doing things differently, said Sarnia Const. John Sottosanti.

Sarnia Police Services is working to curtail the local supply of drugs but recognizes that addiction is at the root of the problem, he said.

“Addiction is not a criminal matter necessarily,” Const. Sottosanti said. “That’s why this team approach is being thought of…we have to do something different. We can’t keep beating our heads against the wall, operating independently of one another.

“We have to be able to work together and find a solution,” he said.

Lambton Drug & Alochol Strategy graphic.

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