A naloxone kit
Naloxone kits are used in first aid care for opioid overdoses. Kits are available at participating pharmacies and other community agencies around Peterborough. (Photo: Ayesha Barmania)
Health unit assures public it continues to monitor overdoses, despite service reductions due to wave of COVID-19 cases
Brett Throop  - 
December 21, 2021

Peterborough Public Health issued a drug poisoning alert on Tuesday due to a “consistently high” number of suspected overdoses in recent days.

It comes days after the health unit announced that it was scaling back its overdose early warning system – along with more than a dozen other programs – as the majority of health unit staff are temporarily redeployed to vaccination clinics in response to a wave of COVID-19 cases. Another six programs have been temporarily halted.

Over the last seven days, paramedics responded to nine opioid-related calls, and there were 12 opioid-related emergency department visits, according to a Tuesday press release.  “This has prompted us to proceed with issuing a public warning in hopes of preventing further harms in the community,” Dr. Thomas Piggott, Peterborough’s medical officer of health, was quoted as saying.

On Monday, a public health official told Peterborough Currents that, despite the announced service reductions, the staff redeployment has not had a “significant” impact on opioid overdose monitoring so far.

“To clarify, at this time we are continuing to monitor our Opioid Early Warning and Surveillance System daily. This includes paramedic calls for service and emergency department visits,” wrote Evan Brockest, a health promoter with Peterborough Public Health, in an email. “Should further staff redeployments be necessary, any new developments affecting the delivery of these programs will be shared.” 

Public health issues drug poisoning alerts if there are any “unusual or unsuspected” increases in overdoses, he wrote. 

“Since the start of the pandemic, there have been three drug poisoning deaths for every death attributable to COVID-19,” Tuesday’s press release reads.

There were 74 confirmed or suspected opioid-related deaths in the Peterborough region between March 2020 and September 2021. Meanwhile, there have been 28 COVID-19 deaths in the region to date, according to public health’s COVID dashboard.

“This serves to remind us that our community is confronted by two immediate and very significant threats to public health – the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the increasing harms of substance use and the contaminated drug supply,” Dr. Piggott is quoted as saying in the release.

The service reductions at Peterborough Public Health will also affect its naloxone distribution program. Naloxone is used to reverse the effects of opioid overdose. 

Brockest wrote that “some of our community distribution partners may experience delays in picking up or filling orders while the majority of our staff are deployed to COVID response and access to our office is limited. However, the general availability of naloxone to the public will be unaffected, and community members will still be able to access naloxone via community agencies and participating pharmacies.”

Peterborough Public Health advises if you use substances:

  • Don’t use drugs alone
  • If you use with a friend, do not use at the exact same time
  • Have a plan – Ask someone to check on you or call the National Overdose Response Service 1-888-688-6677
  • Carry a naloxone kit, keep it visible and close to you
  • Avoid mixing drugs
  • Test your drug by using a small amount first

Call 911 immediately if someone starts to show signs of an overdose and/or cannot be resuscitated after naloxone is administered.

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