Officials in Belleville, Ontario. They say they want the province to step up after 17 suspected drug overdoses in the city center over the past 24 hours.
“This is a very unfortunate event. This is not the first case nor will it be the last,” Mayor Neil Ellis said in a Feb. 7 news release.
“Like many municipalities in the province and the country, we have a very serious drug, addiction and mental health crisis in our city. “We need support from the provincial government on how to move forward with this crisis.”
Ellis, who noted that this crisis is not limited to his municipality of 55,000 residents but is part of a “provincial and federal issue,” said Belleville wants to be part of a broader plan, one that focuses both on reducing damages as well as in rehabilitation.
The mayor added that in the meantime, the police and emergency services in his municipality are “working 24 hours a day” with an “immense amount of municipal resources allocated to this problem on a daily basis.”
Late Tuesday afternoon, local police advised residents and visitors to “exercise caution and avoid unnecessary trips” downtown after receiving multiple calls for suspected drug overdoses in the span of less than a hour.
In a news release, the Belleville Police Service (BPS) said emergency officials were responding to 13 overdose incidents, adding that this incident sparked “the need for increased vigilance and awareness in affected areas.”
“The safety and well-being of our community members and emergency personnel remain the top priority and the Belleville Police Service urges people to avoid areas where emergency personnel are actively involved in assisting those in need,” the police said.
Several roads in the area were closed, but have since been reopened.
Chief Carl Bowker of Hastings-Quinte Paramedic Services told CP24.com they also responded to 13 calls suspected to be opioid-related Tuesday afternoon, but within a span of two and a half hours.
He said the majority of these calls were for “unconscious patients,” noting that nine were transported to the hospital on a “high priority.”
No deaths were reported, Bowker said in a written statement.
“The unexpected increase in call volume briefly overwhelmed paramedics, police and firefighters and road closures were in place to ensure ambulances and firefighters could respond without hindrance,” he said, noting that late last year they experienced a “Similar increase with fentanyl mixed with GHB, which does not respond to Narcan”, which is also known as naloxone.
“There continued to be a couple of opioid-related calls later that night and one (Wednesday) morning. However, nothing comparable to the volume experienced during that short period of time,” Bowker said.
Last November, emergency services were called to 90 suspected overdoses in the span of a week in Belleville, prompting officials to declare a “community crisis.”
During a follow-up news conference Wednesday, the city of Belleville said emergency personnel ultimately responded to a total of 17 suspected overdose calls in the past 24 hours, 14 of which occurred between 2 and 4 yesterday pm.
Police Chief Mike Callaghan said Tuesday’s cluster of emergency calls “resulted in enormous pressure on our emergency services as a whole.”
“While we are fortunate that there were no casualties during this incident, we know that this is a problem that will continue to grow in our community and across the country,” he said, adding that as they push for solutions, BPS has asked its partners to emergency services, public health and Quinte Health to “work together to develop operational scenarios to address similar events to ensure our respective departments are equipped to handle these situations as efficiently and effectively as possible in the future.”
The OPP’s Eastern Region division, in a Jan. 7 post on X, also warned the public about “multiple overdoses in the Belleville area and other parts of eastern Ontario” this week.
“If you or someone you know may be suffering from an overdose, don’t hesitate: call 911,” they said, reminding people that they are protected by the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act.
Multiple overdoses in #belleville area and other parts of eastern Ontario this week. If you or someone you know may be suffering from an overdose, don’t hesitate: call 911. The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Law can protect you. Get more information at https://t.co/3tQC3N8PcV pic.twitter.com/Owpq47grDK
— OPP Eastern Region (@OPP_ER) February 7, 2024
In a written statement provided to CP24.com, an Ontario Ministry of Health spokesperson said the province is “supporting the mental health and well-being of all Ontarians” in countless ways, pointing to its Roadmap to Wellness , a $3.8 billion investment over 10 years to “build a modern, world-class mental health and addictions system.”
Hannah Jensen noted that since 2019, the provincial government has invested $525 in addiction services and supports, including mobile crisis response teams, safe beds (short-term accommodation for people in crisis taken to hospital), opioid agonist therapy and eight new youth wellness centers. and Rapid Access Addiction Medicine clinics.
He also said that in response to the pandemic’s impact on substance use, Ontario is implementing the Addiction Recovery Fund, a “one-time $90 million investment over three years to increase the capacity of addictions services, adding 500 new beds for the treatment of addictions.
Jensen further noted that in the 2023/2024 budget there is a five percent increase in core funding for mental health and addictions organizations, including nearly $35 million directed to Belleville.
“The Ministry of Health also provides funding to public health units (part of its global allocation) for the distribution of supplies and the improvement of the harm reduction program, including early warning systems, naloxone and local drug strategies,” said.
Dr. Ethan Toumishey, chief medical officer of health for Hastings Prince Edward Public Health, said the increasing rates of drug poisonings seen in the region are due to the “contaminated drug supply” that is affecting multiple communities across Ontario. .
“We recognize that the risk and rate of drug poisoning is a concern for community members, partners and people who use drugs,” they said in a statement, adding that they continue to monitor information related to drug poisoning. and are working with community partners to prepare and respond to them.
Toumishey said it is important to recognize that people who use drugs may be suffering from addiction and have no choice but to use unregulated substances and that this issue must be addressed “with compassion and with the goal of identifying and implementing long-term solutions for the community.” . “
“We are committed to working with community partners this spring to finalize a community drug strategy, which will be implemented over the next three to five years,” he said.
“This strategy aims to identify and implement collaborative solutions to the most pressing issues related to unregulated substances within our community.”
Toumishey also credited first responders, hospital and community support staff who provide immediate assistance to those suffering from drug poisoning, while working on longer-term initiatives to address issues related to substance use and addiction in the region. .
CP24.com also contacted the Prime Minister’s office for a response.