April 13, 2023 at 6:40 am
Details of Lambton County’s recently adopted 10-year drug and alcohol strategy were shared at a media conference Wednesday.
This is a collaborative approach to addressing trends in the community concerned about opioids.
The comprehensive document focuses on three pillars: demand reduction, harm reduction and supply reduction.
Priorities include reducing the stigma surrounding substance use, addressing mental health and trauma, and creating systems that are easy to operate.
In 2020, Lambton County had an all-time high of 43 opioid-related deaths, said Lambton Medical Health Officer Dr. Karalyn Dueck.
“That was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and obviously that had an impact on mental health and substance use,” Dr. Dueck said. “This strategy has been in the works for some time. Substance use disorders and mental health issues are not new. However, during the pandemic, the importance of this issue has become very clear. We are now coming together as a community to change this progress on one trend.”
Preliminary estimates include 38 opioid-related deaths in 2021 and 21 between January and October 2022.
Another important thing, says Dr. Dueck, is to use human-friendly terms, such as “recovering person” or “addicted person,” rather than “user,” “addict,” or “abuser.”
Sarnia-Lambton Rebound is one agency that plays a key role in this strategy, especially when working with young people.
Executive director Michelle Holbrook said prevention and early intervention were both important.
“That’s what the demand pillar really is,” Holbrooke said. “It’s about looking at how we can provide that social connection and provide education to young people. Rebound has a program called Choices that is specifically about education on substance use. We’ve been a piece of the puzzle in the community, but we need Expand and find out what other people are doing. Our priority is to find out what other people in the community are doing. We’re really focusing on young people, and this strategy is more about the lifecycle.”
Part of the strategy centers on police enforcement.
CST. John Sottosanti is a member of the Sarnia Police Department’s Integrated Mobile Police and Crisis Team (IMPACT). For them, reducing the physical supply of the drug has been an issue, he said.
“When you’re talking to people on the street, there’s some underlying problem that drives them in that direction to find ways to heal themselves,” Sottosanti said. “And then it can perpetuate to the point where it worsens their lives, and then we have The homelessness that plagues them. Of course, they also have to go through violence and other crimes to justify the need for these drugs. So, there’s a lot of things that have to come together. That’s why this team approach is being considered. We’ve got to do something different, we can’t be banging our heads against the wall independently.”
“Basically, we’re kind of trying to steer people in the right direction, rather than just arresting and prosecuting them, because that doesn’t necessarily work,” he added. “Sometimes it’s needed, but it doesn’t always work. We’re working hard to find other avenues and work with our community members to find solutions.”
The program will also have a rural focus with the help of the North Lambton Community Health Centre.
Executive director Kathy Bresette said they would look to build on existing rural strategies.
“We did hit most communities in rural Lambton,” Bresette said. “We’re going to Alvinston, Waterford, Thedford, we have a rented apartment from Kettle Point that people live in every day. Also, in Sarnia-Lambton we’re going to be rolling out mobile buses. It’s also It will be extended to local rural areas. We want to make sure that rural strategies are included in the work.”
There’s no question the province needs more funding when it comes to community health, Bressett said.
“If we look at health promotion and those resources, they haven’t got the level of funding they need to deal with the 22 percent of the population that needs more resources. Maybe they’re already impoverished or homeless. There has to be a shift to health promotion,” Bresette said .
Lambton County Council approved the plan at an April 5 meeting.