Addiction, mental health major topics of discussion at board of health meeting

GREY-BRUCE – The overall health of residents of Grey-Bruce was the subject of a presentation at the Jan. 31 meeting of the board of health by Dr. Rim Zayed on the Health Status Report.

Of more immediate concern was her report on the opioid situation in Grey- Bruce, in light of the declaration of an emergency by Saugeen First Nation.

The health unit’s role in that emergency has been one of supporting the community’s initiatives.

She noted in her report that there were four deaths since August 2022, related to opioids contaminated with fentanyl. This resulted in the emergency being declared.

The focus of the response has been on harm reduction, involving widespread use of Naloxone.

The most recent data available indicates that emergency services have received “no calls for service” to Saugeen First Nation relating to the opioid situation.

Zayed’s report included a lot of statistical information for December and January. One valuable item was a map showing the number of opioid-related deaths across Grey-Bruce.

While the map wasn’t entirely accurate, as Dr. Ian Arra, medical officer of health, explained, it will show trends over time, allowing health unit resources to be focused where the need is greatest.

“The map over time will be helpful,” he said.

The map indicated that contrary to what some people would think, the number of opioid-related deaths in Owen Sound is not greater than for the rest of Grey-Bruce. There have actually been fewer deaths.

“We never had the data before,” said Zayed.

The Locally Driven Community Project led by the Grey Bruce Health Unit is conducting a pilot survey of five health units.

During the question-and-answer period that followed the report presentation, Sue Paterson (Hanover) noted that “as of today, in British Columbia, it’s no longer an offence to possess small amounts” of illegal drugs.

Zayed said the results will be observed closely.

Nick Saunders, who represents Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, commented, “This is going to make things worse.” He made a plea for a “wholistic approach to mental health and addiction” that’s not “just through Western science.”

Chris Peabody (Bruce County Warden) provided information on the issue garnered at the recent Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference, which he attended. He said he’d met with ministry of health people including Michael Tibollo, associate minister of mental health and addictions, and had “outlined gaps in Grey-Bruce regarding the mental health and addiction issues we are all seeing on our main streets.”

He noted he’d requested permanent funding for the mental health Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team that has proved very effective in other areas where the initiative is fully funded. While he didn’t get an answer, he said he found the associate minister “quite engaged” in the issue.

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times