The camp’s demise is a stark reminder of Hamilton’s growing opioid crisis

Before police investigated a grassy strip of land on a street in North Hamilton around noon Monday, the body of a man was pulled from a tent and boarded an ambulance.

He was 30 years old and died after an alleged overdose.

Those who live in the camp on Strachan Street, near Bayfront Park, said he had only been there for about six weeks, kept quiet and did his thing.

But that unfamiliarity didn’t make it easy for him to let himself go.

“It makes you worry about yourself,” said Eric Bouchard, who has lived in the camp since the end of August. “It can happen to anyone.”

The premature death of man is just the latest flash point in a crippling local opioid crisis.

As of June, there were already 85 probable or confirmed opioid-related deaths here this year, according to the last numbers of the city – putting Hamilton on the path to more deaths in 2021 than in 2020, when there was a record 124.

For first responders, the situation on the ground it has been unprecedented.

As of Wednesday, Hamilton paramedics had responded to 804 suspected opioid overdose calls in 2021, already significantly more than in any of the previous four years. In 2020, they answered 565 calls, 596 in 2019, 450 in 2018, and 430 in 2017.

In August, when calls reached an all-time high of 109, paramedics were responding to up to five suspected overdoses a day, paramedics superintendent Dave Thompson said at the time.

“We continue to see the challenges of the opioid crisis within the city of Hamilton,” he added Tuesday. “We are working with our community partners and agencies collaborating to combat the opioid crisis.”

It’s unclear how many of those paramedic calls were made in camps. But advocates on the front lines say there is a connection between Hamilton’s enduring homeless crisis and overdose.

“There is so much despair in people who are homeless,” he said. Dr. Jill Wiwcharuk of the Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team. “I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t feel desperate living outside when temperatures drop below freezing and they desperately want to be indoors.”

Overdoses among the city’s most vulnerable have been exacerbated by overwhelmed shelters, he added, as well as a recent sentence of the court that once again allows the city to clean the tents in public parks.

“I visit the camps several times a week, and each time I talk to people who want to be indoors, who want to get a shelter bed, who want to access the resources available to them inside,” Wiwcharuk said. “But there is no place for them.”

There is also the problem of volatile and contaminated illegal drugs making its way to unwitting users.

The COVID pandemic severely disrupted the global drug supply chain. So, traffickers began creating dangerous narcotic cocktails, including some resistant to life-saving naloxone, to keep your stock. When those drugs end up in the hands of unknown users, the consequences can be swift and deadly.

“The entire supply is toxic right now,” he said. Rebecca Morris-Miller, founder of the faith-based outreach agency Grenfell Ministries, which has a 24-hour hotline with the goal of preventing overdose deaths. across canada.

But bad batches of drugs are not necessarily new, Morris-Miller noted. He said the key lies in more harm reduction programs and safe injection sites that protect users.

“Charging distributors is not going to save anyone. We have to accuse politicians, who know what they need and have known what to do, but choose not to do it. “

Sebastian Bron is a reporter for The Spectator. [email protected]

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