Fighting local opioid crisis during COVID-19

(Photo by Lambton EMS)

The number of overdose-related calls to Lambton EMS and hospital visits have been steady, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Paramedics attended 48 opioid overdose-related calls between January and the end of March, down from 55 over the same time period last year.

Lambton Medical Officer of Health Dr. Sudit Ranade said almost every vulnerability is made worse by the pandemic.

“Opioid or substance use disorder is no exception to that,” said Ranade. “We recognize when we were looking to reshape our programs towards the COVID response that there were going to have to be some things that we kept. Our harm reduction program was once of those things because we knew that was a need that would not go away, and we knew that it was a need that would continue to have to be met.”

According to Lambton Public Health’s April Opioid Surveillance Bulletin, over the first three months of the year, there were 30 opioid overdose-related visits to the emergency department. That’s down from 46 during the same three months in 2019, but still above the provincial average.

Dr. Ranade said that’s not surprising.

“Even before this we had some elevated rates of opioid use presentation to the emergency room compared to the province,” he said. “Part of the reason for that is because if that’s the only place people can go or know where to go, then they go there. So there’s been a lot of work to build wraparound supports for those folks. It just highlights the need to continue to work on this problem and then go back to focusing on it when the physical distancing measures and things like that are over.”

Dr. Ranade said Naloxone kits are still available at the health unit and at area pharmacies.

There were 17 confirmed opioid overdose deaths in Sarnia-Lambton from January to September last year. That’s up from 13 in all of 2018.