Substance abuse, mental health concerns increased in CK during pandemic

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Chatham-Kent is getting a grim look at the social and human impacts that COVID-19 is having on its residents.

CK Public Health prepared an information report that will go to council on Monday night.

The item is in response to a motion that was approved in June, requesting recommendations for mitigating the human, social, and community impacts of COVID-19. This was also to include a report that considered any gendered, socio-economic, and racial disparity of the impact of COVID-19 within Chatham-Kent.

“Certainly, COVID-19 has touched all of our lives but, it cannot be denied that it is impacting some groups disproportionately,” stated the report. “Ongoing inequities have created social conditions that put some individuals at more risk of negative impacts from isolation to the inability to access much-needed services, to poor health outcomes.”

The multi-page presentation highlights 10 main areas that have been impacted by the pandemic and separated them into two categories- areas where an increase of existing challenges have been
identified, and areas where new concerns have been identified

An existing concern that has been amplified is substance abuse. According to public health, substance abuse in Chatham-Kent has seen an increase over the last several months, specifically the number of people that have had to use emergency services because of suspected opioid poisonings.

“Between January and June of 2020, there were nearly double the number of suspected opioid-related EMS calls compared to the same time in 2019,” read the report. “In fact, Chatham-Kent is one of three health unit areas facing the highest rates of emergency department visits in the province for suspected opioid overdose since the start of the pandemic. While opioid overdose-related emergency department visits have decreased for the province overall since the state of emergency was declared, the number of opioid-related deaths is increasing. In the first half of 2020, Chatham-Kent has already realized more opioid-related deaths than would typically occur in a year.”

The report also noted that since the start of the pandemic, CK Public Health has seen an increase in the number of cigarettes smoked daily by clients enrolled in the quit clinic program, with the clients citing the pandemic and social isolation as the reason for the increase in cigarettes.

Mental health needs were also listed as an area with previous concern that has been heightened in 2020 with people being forced to face new or worsening challenges during the pandemic including financial stress, change in routine, and fears around getting infected.

Housing, financial, and food security concerns were additional areas in Chatham-Kent that the health unit said have increased.

“We heard from partners locally who provide emergency food assistance that they are seeing an increase in the number of individuals and families accessing emergency food support and people who have never had to access emergency food assistance before,” the report stated.

According to CK Public Heath, Chatham-Kent has also seen an increase in what is known as the digital divide.

“The move to online platforms for programs, services, and education requires access to reliable internet service, hardware such as laptops and computers, digital literacy, and opportunities to develop digital skills,” the report read. “Many individuals in CK lack one or more of these required resources and depend on social settings such as libraries and cafés for connection and technology. The closures of libraries and cafés essentially eliminated many people’s ability to participate in any form of online program, service, or education.”

Some of the areas where new concerns have been identified are living and working conditions, employment, the impact on community members who are in a caregiving role and general health and well being.

“Cancellation and reduced health care services that have occurred throughout the pandemic may negatively impact long-term health. For example, the cancellation of elective surgeries may lead to worse health outcomes for an individual, and the decrease in routine preventative screening may lead to worse outcomes in the future… In addition, people may be unable to access care such as physiotherapy, massage therapy, and chiropractic services to prevent, manage, or treat chronic diseases or conditions…These findings are disturbing and important to note. Chatham-Kent already has significantly higher rates of hospitalizations and mortality when compared to Ontario for a number of chronic diseases,” the report stated. “Worsening trends are observed as socioeconomic status decreases.”

The health unit notes that truly responding to and mitigating the negative impacts of the coronavirus pandemic in the community will require an all hands on deck response and will require a coordinated and collaborative response across sectors.

“There is a need to shift community attitudes, knowledge, and awareness around the factors that determine population health and well-being, and a need to consider equity and inclusion in decisions around resource allocation, planning, implementation, and evaluation of programs and services.”

The full report can be read by clicking here.