Community events marking International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31 come amid a series of local deaths which have slowed this year over last.
Statistics show 28 people died by fentanyl or another opioid overdose in Grey-Bruce last year. But those are just coroner-confirmed cases.
There were actually 46 suspected drug deaths in Grey-Bruce last year but the cause has not been confirmed in all cases. So far this year there have been 20 suspected drug deaths, Grey Bruce Health Unit figures show.
Comparing May, June and July, there were eight suspected drug deaths last year and four this year.
So the pace of suspected drug deaths has slowed this year, said Alexis Cook, the health unit’s harm reduction manager responsible for responding to the opioid problem.
There was another suspected fatal opioid overdose in Owen Sound Thursday. The health unit has issued three overdose alerts this month, triggered when there are three or more overdoses in a 48-hour period.
The person who died was in his or her mid-30s and Cook noted people aged 25 to 44 are three times more likely than any other age group to experience a fatal drug overdose. Local and provincial data both show that, she said.
Fatal drug overdoses peaked in 2020 during the pandemic, when more than 2,400 people in Ontario died. That was a 58 per cent increase over 2019, when 1,529 people died.
Cook said local figures indicate we all need to be aware of the ongoing drug overdose crisis. People can help by being trained and carrying naloxone kits containing the drug which temporarily reverses an opioid drug overdose.
Also, people should know the Good Samaritan Act protects people from simple drug possession charges when 911 is called, she said.
Cook said the health unit is “currently working with community partners to build a response, as it is a priority for public health, and to increase our current response.” Public health nurses visited drug users in the community during each of the three overdose alerts this month, Cook said.
“The nurses went out and they did targeted outreach and ensured that individuals who were using drugs had access to naloxone . . . we hand out needles as well and we do meth kits and crack kits to ensure individuals are using as safely as possible.”
The nurses reminded them to use drugs with someone else present who can administer naloxone, or use while on the line with an operator with the Overdose Prevention Line, who will call 911 if the user becomes unresponsive, she said.
Naloxone is available free-of-charge at the health unit Monday to Friday and from community partners, including paramedics and mental health workers.
To mark International Overdose Awareness Day, there will be a community barbecue at Neyaashiinigmiing on Tuesday, the day before the official day for overdose awareness, from 2 p.m. until sunset, at Kina Waa Noojmojig Nanaweing Wellness Pavilion.
Owen Sound will have three events: a community barbecue from noon to 3 p.m. at Safe ‘n Sound drop-in centre, a barbecue and sacred fire from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at M’Wikwedong Indigenous Friendship Centre, and a candlelit vigil from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Owen Sound Farmers’ Market parking lot.
Also Aug. 31, a candlelit vigil will take in Port Elgin at Coulter Parkette, and a candlelit vigil with speakers will take place in Hanover’s Hope Community Church from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., to which people are asked to bring a blanket or lawn chair.
“These events are a chance to stimulate discussion about substance use prevention, overdose prevention, available supports and evidence-based drug policies and reduce the stigma of drug-related deaths,” Cook said in a news release. “It’s also a time for the community to mourn, in a safe environment, and remember the loved ones who have been lost.”