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Simcoe Muskoka's opioid overdose deaths reflect troubling statistics

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A new study from Western University found that about one in six people in Ontario killed by opioid overdoses in 2021 were homeless, a jarring rise from one in 14 people back in 2017, and the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) says the rising numbers match up to what it's seeing locally.

"Limited access to supports, living without housing or not having affordable housing. All of those things cause stress in individuals and compound on one another," said Cathy Eisener, a public health nurse with the SMDHU Substance Use and Injury Prevention Program.

Experts say that much like the general population, isolation and mental health issues from the pandemic have played a significant role, along with limited access to housing.

"How do we actually expect that somebody can get off of opiates and address all of these things that are going on for them when they actually don't know where they are going to sleep at night, said Busby Centre Executive Director Sara Peddle.

The rising toxicity of unregulated drugs has also been a factor in the spike, combined with the number of barriers to accessing professional help.

"There's a lot of talk about accessibility to treatment. People think it's very easy for someone to get into treatment for addiction, mental health, all of the things. But it's actually not that easy," explained Peddle.

Local stakeholders say that is why they have been pressing for a supervised consumption site in Barrie.

"Use substances in a supervised environment where there are healthcare providers. The model for Barrie will be operated by the Canadian Mental Health Association, so there will be that whole realm of supports through them that people will have access to," said Eisener.

The Busby Centre says while many different organizations are doing good work, there is no quick fix for the crisis.

"We have Lucy's Place with Redwood Park Communities and Paula's Place with Elizabeth Fry Society. Those are proven models that if you spend some time letting people heal, we can see better outcomes for that individual and make sure people stay alive," reasoned Peddle.

Eisener says one step towards a solution would be for society to stop viewing this crisis as numbers and trends and, instead, recognize that the people struggling are humans with loved ones and social service providers who are also being impacted.

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