Over the next two months, I thought it would be good to let people know what I think are some of the key issues facing Regional Council.
I find that often people wonder what sorts of things are being done at Regional Council and how they actually impact our lives in Niagara.
One of the things the Regional government manages is Niagara Public Health. The Public Health group of professionals look after beach water testing, food inspections, and finding solutions to make each resident more physically fit and healthy. This includes the fight against drug addiction.
I would like to begin my thoughts on the issue of Opioid addiction in Niagara. This has been in the news lately, as the new Ontario government has put on hold the introduction of harm reduction (supervised drug-use) centres including one planned for St. Catharines.
If elected I will make the fight against opioid abuse in Niagara front and centre. In 2017, there were 521 opioid-related emergency room visits, 123 hospitalizations and 76 deaths, just in Niagara. This was a 65% increase over 2016 stats.
Regional and municipal governments in Niagara have been combating opioid addiction for a number of years and I applaud them for their efforts. But we need to do more. Niagara, especially Niagara Falls and St. Catharines, are well above the provincial average in the opioid epidemic. As a community, we need to put more emphasis, more time and more money toward fighting this. We need to give our professional staff in public health more resources to educate the public on the harm of over using prescription drugs and to help those already facing addiction. We need to assist them in building an ecosystem (a team) that will consist of the police, fire fighters, doctors, hospitals, our education system, the province, the municipalities, paramedics, social workers and more to fight this problem.
We need to do this not only to help save the lives of these addicted individuals but to help our community prosper.
In a recent article, my friends at Deloitte looked at strategies for stemming the opioid epidemic in the US. They mentioned many staggering facts such as:
What I would do?
I wish I had a simple solution to all of this.
I would continue to encourage all of our various lines of services to work in tandem to create an ecosystem strategy and give it a high priority and the funding that is needed. I would lobby the provincial government to allow us to open the harm reduction centre. I would ask the province to consider the creation of a prescription database of known abusers and have doctors check it. On the local front I would encourage the unwanted prescription medication drop-off kiosks that have been created. I would encourage the distribution of Naloxone kits to our front line staff to help fight overdoses. I would make public education and awareness of opioid abuse a centre of our public health system.
In the end my biggest commitment would be to make our approach to this epidemic a key strategy of Niagara Regional Council.
Using a team of professional staff, community volunteers and the council itself we can change the course of so many residents’ lives and help Niagara prosper.