As opioid overdose fatalities continue to increase in Niagara, Glen Walker is adding his support to an initiative he believes may stop the trend.
Walker said 56 Niagara residents have died as a result of suspected opioid overdoses in the first five months of this year, while Niagara Emergency Medical Services paramedics are responding to about 50 calls a month related to overdoses — putting 2020 on track to exceed the previous few years when it comes to drug overdoses.
“We are seeing worse outcomes. There seems to be more deadly drugs out there,” said Walker, Positive Living Niagara’s executive director and co-chair of the Overdose Prevention Network of Niagara.
“We’re looking at exceeding the number of COVID-19 deaths very shortly, if not all ready in the region,” he said, noting at least 64 people have died from the pandemic virus.
“It’s this hidden epidemic that’s going on and it hasn’t had much attention at all. … This overdose crisis is really underground.”
Walker is calling for the decriminalization of drug possession in the hope of combating the dangerous street drugs that are claiming the lives of Niagara residents.
Walker isn’t proposing that opioids be sold alongside recreational drugs such as cannabis. He is, however, hoping new federal legislation can be developed that would give people suffering from addictions access to safe drugs through medical prescriptions — along with the health-care services they need to overcome those addictions.
“We certainly are strong proponents of can we start offering a safe supply of drugs where people can actually get a prescription for an opioid so we know they’re not going to overdose, so we know they’re using it safely and, most importantly, they’re forming a relationship with someone so that they can perhaps move to a point where they want treatment and they want to get off of the substance,” he said. “That is critical.”
Walker will take part in Thursday’s regional council meeting to speak in support of a motion by St. Catharines Coun. Laura Ip, urging the federal government to decriminalize possession of all drugs for personal use and scale up prevention, harm reduction, and treatment services.
The motion, to be distributed to upper-tier government representatives and local municipalities if passed, also calls on the federal government to convene a task force to explore options for the legal regulation of all drugs in Canada, based on a public health approach.
“Decriminalization has been a proven effective tool at reducing overdoses and deaths due to substance use,” Walker said. “It’s also been proven to save hundreds of thousands in funds for emergency services, hospitals — all that as well.”