UPDATE: Corrected report author
Overdose can affect anybody. That’s one message of International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD), which is observed on August 31. Sudbury’s Réseau ACCESS Network is observing IOAD with events on August 30 and 31 in Sudbury, Wahnipitae and on Manitoulin Island at Wiikwemkoong Health Centre and M’Chigeeng First Nation.
IOAD is the world’s largest campaign to end overdose and to remember without stigma those who have died and acknowledge the grief of family and friends who are left behind, explained Kaela Pelland, director of peer engagement at Réseau ACCESS Network. Ms. Pelland has been working about 10 years in harm reduction, seven of those at the agency.
“Our goals this year are to give community members information about the issues of fatal and non-fatal overdoses,” she said. “We want to send a strong message to current and former people who use drugs that they are valued. We really want to stimulate discussion on overdose prevention and drug policy.”
Other goals are to provide basic information on the range of services that are available in Sudbury and in outlying communities like Manitoulin. “Overdose doesn’t discriminate and overdose happens everywhere,” she pointed out. “Another goal is to prevent and reduce drug-related harm by supporting evidence-based policy and practice and provide information to folks, and to inform people about the risk of overdose. Anyone who uses any prescribed or illicit substance is at risk for overdose and knowledge and education is our best defence for keeping us safe.”
A report from the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario shows that from January 2022 until July 2022, there have been 75 drug-related deaths in the district, noted Ms. Pelland. “Northern Ontario continues to experience disproportionately high incidents of suspected drug-related deaths,” she said. “In the Northern Ontario region, the mortality rate for suspected drug-related deaths is more than double the provincial rate. It really, really shows the lack of awareness in Northern Ontario, the lack of resources, there is not necessarily easy access to Naloxone to people, especially in Northern Ontario.”
Most pharmacies carry Naloxone. Ms. Pelland wants people to know they don’t need to show a health card or ID to get Naloxone at a pharmacy. “It is not okay for them to ask,” she said. “We’ve heard reports of this, especially in smaller communities. People go to their local pharmacy to get naloxone and they’re asked for ID and they’re asked a bunch of questions. No one should be given Naloxone unless they’ve been trained on how to use it but apart from that, no other information should be given as far as someone’s identity. That’s an empowering thing for people to know.”
In every Naloxone kit there is a card that explains the Good Samaritan Act (GSA). The intention of the GSA is to remove barriers to people calling 9-1-1 when there’s an overdose, she explained. People were afraid to call 9-1-1 because they may have had conditions or they had substances on them or they themselves were intoxicated and there was fear around getting arrested.
“The GSA came into play to protect folks who are around in overdose events,” Ms. Pelland said. “It’s very important for people to know their rights, to have autonomy for themselves. At the end of the day, the purpose of the GSA is to keep people alive. If folks are afraid of calling 9-1-1, people may die.”
The Réseau ACCESS Network team will be in Wiikwemkoong on August 30 at the Health Centre from 8:30 am until 10 am. They’re bringing Naloxone and will provide training and some additional overdose awareness information. After that, they’ll be in M’Chigeeng First Nation at the band office from 11 am until 2 pm.
“What’s really great about being invited to the Island is being able to do a knowledge exchange with the communities that we’ve been invited to,” said Ms. Pelland. “It’s really beneficial for us to learn how communities have been working within this drug policy crisis.”
On August 31, IOAD, they will visit the Wahnipitae First Nation at 2 pm. At 5:30 pm, Réseau ACCESS Network will be at Sudbury Indie Cinema Co-op. An opening ceremony will be followed by overdose recognition and response training, and a demonstration of how one would use Naloxone. There will be naloxone kits available at all of these events. Capping off the evening will be a screening of the film Kimmapiiyipitssini: The-meaning-of-empathy.
“That one is really great at showing how harm reduction in more isolated Indigenous communities have had to work with drug policy crisis and work with all of the deaths that have happened to their communities,” Ms. Pelland said. “It’s a great film.”
The film can also be streamed for free online at nfb.ca/film/kimmapiiyipitssini-the-meaning-of-empathy/ for those who are unable to attend the event in Sudbury.
Réseau ACCESS Network has many programs and services including a large harm reduction service. They are lead partners for Sudbury’s safe consumption site that will be opening within the next few weeks. It’s important to know the services exist, Ms. Pelland said. “It’s also important to note that no one has ever died at a safe consumption site and that it’s very important for communities to have and support these services because they keep people safe and keep people alive.”
For more information about Réseau ACCESS Network or their services, call 705-688-0500.
Lori Thompson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Manitoulin Expositor