Kyle Arnold knows how to help people trying to recover from drug addiction. He’s been there himself.
Arnold is a program coordinator at PACE, a drop-in center in Thunder Bay, Ontario, that provides a safe space and some comfort to many of the city’s people who are homeless, addicted to drugs or just need a place. to rest.
Arnold, who stopped using drugs almost five years ago, has a lot of compassion for the people who walk through the doors of PACE.
“If you walk down the street and look for the guy who’s 130 pounds, hanging, who everyone said would never get clean, that’s what I was. I didn’t stand a chance, I was done, I was dying,” he told to CBC. Home as part of a special episode on the opioid crisis.
Home51:10On the front lines of the toxic drug crisis
“I got clean,” Arnold told host Catherine Cullen. “That’s why, with everything in my heart, I know that anyone on these streets can do it. Because there’s nothing special about me that’s different than any of them. Nothing.”
That’s a sentiment shared by colleague Vanessa Tookenay, who is also recovering.
“It’s important to share that part of ourselves, right? Because I’m like everyone else here. The only difference is that I just don’t do drugs,” he said.
Canada is experiencing an epidemic of overdose-related deaths, due in part to an increasingly toxic drug supply. While among the hardest-hit communities in the country, Thunder Bay is just one of many struggling with the consequences of serious addiction.
Deaths associated with drug overdoses increased during the COVID-19 pandemic across the country. In Ontario, for example, deaths have nearly doubled: from just under 1,600 in 2018 to nearly 3,000 in 2021. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, more than 38,000 people have died in Canada from opioid-related overdoses since 2016.
Arnold and Tookenay said the key to their recovery was access to detox and treatment, something they say is in short supply in Thunder Bay. The city has only 25 drug and alcohol detox beds.
Front Burner24:23‘The Drugs Store,’ safe supply, and its backlash
More resources needed, first responders say
Paramedics Jameson Shortreed and Kescia Yeomans, who work for Superior North EMS, see the opioid crisis in Thunder Bay at ground level.
They said that over the past five years, they’ve seen the number of opioid-related calls soar from around 20 a month to roughly 100 in some months.
“For me, it’s disappointing and it’s frustrating because you can see what the solution would be and action [is] are not being taken,” Yeomans said.
“Thunder Bay is a beautiful city. It has a lot to offer… We don’t want to be known as the murder capital, the drug capital, or anything like that. So I feel like if people can understand that it’s a [matter] of financing and resources and things like that… The solutions are there. “We just need people in power to make the right… right decisions.”
Shortreed said what Thunder Bay needs most now is more investment in detox beds.
“I have called our detox center numerous times,” he said. “Once, maybe twice in my career, I think I actually got someone a spot there.”
Thunder Bay resident Carolyn Karle lost her daughter to an overdose after a long period of sobriety. That inspired her to form an organization to raise money to help people addicted to drugs, along with her families.
“Sometimes I think I’ve been advocating at all levels of government… but really, should mothers who have lost their children be the ones to initiate the changes?” she said Home.
Governments should work to open many more treatment centers, Karle said, and fund services that support addicted people during the stages of recovery.
Thunder Bay does have a supervised consumption site. Juanita Lawson is the executive director of NorWest Community Health Centers, which manages the facility. She said the treatment beds can’t do much.
“Treatment is necessary, but if we continue to fail to provide the services people need to survive, why have treatment beds if people are dying as a result of toxic drug delivery?” she said. NorWest began a safer supply pilot program last year.
Lawson and one of her colleagues, Brittany D’Angelo, said Home about some of the political backlash against the broader push for more secure supply. Prominent conservative politicians have attacked the idea of a secure supply.
“We’re not allowing them. We’re trying to keep them alive long enough for them to have some stability in their lives.” [so] Hopefully they can have some of the privileges that you and I have,” D’Angelo said.
Based on conversations with officials and frontline workers in Thunder Bay, it is clear that a lack of resources is a major obstacle to addressing drug and crime problems. City council member Kristen Oliver said Thunder Bay has had to divert funds from recreation to law enforcement.
“This is a health care crisis, it’s a social crisis, but it falls on the backs of municipal property taxpayers,” he told Cullen.
“We keep talking about Thunder Bay as if it’s the only place this is happening, which I think is a disservice to the rest of the province and this country. Because this is a provincial problem, it’s a national problem.”
Police looking for more resources
Thunder Bay Police Chief Darcy Fleury argued that law enforcement cannot be the only response to the crisis, even though the city is trying to access federal funds to help deal with the problem. gangs, which is closely related to drug trafficking.
“We will never be able to force our way out of this. It’s a situation where we have to have community participation, community engagement,” Fleury said.
Thunder Bay’s police service has had to deal with other issues, including allegations of racism, harassment and misconduct in the workplace, and concerns about police handling of sudden death cases involving Indigenous people. Fleury became head of the force in May.
Mayor Ken Boshcoff said Home the way forward is a combination of safer supply and treatment. But he argued that Thunder Bay, as a major center in northern Ontario, is being overwhelmed by an influx of people looking to use the city’s services.
“In the coming months we will need to really rethink our capacity and how to increase it or get more support, and that’s where the federal and provincial governments [come in]” he said. “We need you all.
“We’re trying to cope.”
Have you or someone you know been affected by the opioid crisis in Canada? Get in touch. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you or someone you know needs help, you can consult Canada’s Directory of Addiction Rehabilitation Services at www.canadadrugrehab.ca or by calling 1-866-462-6362.