At least 73 people have died from overdose in Waterloo Region since January including one death every two days on average in July
As mayors from across Ontario continue to meet in Ottawa in part to call on the province to step up on issues like homelessness, mental health, and addiction, those calls are also being echoed by local advocates.
It comes as numbers show nearly 2,000 people have lost their lives to opioid overdose in Ontario so far this year. In the Waterloo Region, at least 73 people have died due to opioid overdose since the start of January including an average of about one every two days through July.
“The data in terms of death continues to go the wrong way and good solutions are [being] left on the table,” said Michael Parkinson, formerly with the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council.
By any measure, Parkinson said this represents a real-time public health emergency and a chronic failure of policy meant to mitigate it.
He also said the number of overdose-related deaths — while tragic and significant — barely scratch the surface of those who have survived only to live with opioid-related injury.
“If you work in street outreach or aspects of the healthcare system, you’re meeting people every day now in a way that you didn’t just five-ten years ago who are disabled because, when it comes to opioids, it stops oxygen from going to the brain so you end up with brain hypoxia and you don’t function the same way,” Parkinson said.
The opioid crisis in Canada, meanwhile, is not new with experts over the past few years referring to the country being in the midst of two pandemics, one caused by COVID-19, the other by opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil.
Despite this, Parkinson said there’s been a lack of real action to address issues of addiction.
“Across Canada, a lot of this stuff has been ‘delegated’ to municipalities and this is a level of government which is ill-equipped to deal with the public health emergency,” he said.
“So here we are, and at the end of this month there will be memorials across Canada for Overdose Awareness Day where people who have lost loved ones will come together and grieve, they will call for the same solutions they called for last year and hopefully those will go somewhere in a way they haven’t in previous years.”
Meantime, here at home, the Region of Waterloo has confirmed changes are also on the way in how local overdose numbers are reported including a new online monitoring dashboard.
The current overdose monitoring dashboard reflects data dating back to 2019, and includes a run down of overdose-related calls and naloxone administrations locally.
A spokesperson with ROW Public Health confirmed the new dashboard will include the same information, but presented in a new way.
An e-mail statement read, “There will be more frequent updates as data becomes available, as well as the ability to interact with the information (ie, viewing trends over time). None of the current information will be lost.”
No concrete timeline was provided on when the new dashboard will become available, except it’s believed to launch soon.