Sudbury MPP calls for more action and funding to address growing opioid deaths

·3 min read

Ontario health minister Christine Elliott told Sudbury MPP Jamie West this past week that while many parts of Ontario do not have all the mental health resources that many people need right now, there is a plan in place to have provincewide mental health and addictions services.

Elliott was responding to West's plea for the government to take action to immediately increase funding for mental health services in Sudbury.

“Sudburians are suffering,” said West during question period at the Ontario Legislature.

“Family members are mourning and local health resources are overwhelmed," he added.

West described how he had met with Denise Sandul of Sudbury, the mother of 22-year-old Myles Keaney, who died of an opioid overdose earlier this year. He also told the legislature that a cross had been erected in downtown Sudbury close to where Keaney died, as a memoriam to a young life lost.

West said the number of crosses had increased dramatically to the point where it is expected more than 50 crosses will be in place before too long.

“Will the premier commit to immediate increased funding to help Sudburians like Denise and her family?” asked West in the legislature.

Health Minister Elliott stood to respond and offered her sympathies.

"First, let me express my condolences to Myles’s family and all of the other families who have lost anyone through an overdose, through addictions of any kind. That is something none of us want to see happen in the province of Ontario," said Elliott.

She added that Ontario has a plan in place to address mental health concerns across the province.

"That is why we brought forward our Roadmap to Wellness, to make sure that across Ontario — that includes Northern Ontario, southern, eastern and western Ontario — we can have that core basket of addictions and mental health treatments," said Elliott.

The Roadmap to Wellness is a joint federal-provincial 10-year action plan to address several concerns that include too long wait times, barriers to access, fragmented services, uneven quality of services and lack of data.

Elliott said the addictions and mental health crisis is similar to what existed several years ago with the shortfalls in cancer care in Ontario. Elliott said it took time and money before cancer care was improved significantly.

She said work is underway, costing billions of dollars, to ensure that all parts of Ontario get better mental health and addictions support.

In his comments in the Legislature, West also stated the opioid overdoses are involved in as many as 50 to 80 deaths per week in Ontario.

In a study published earlier this year by Public Health Ontario (PHO), it was stated that opioid deaths were quickly outpacing the number of deaths that occurred in Ontario in 2019 and the increase might be as much as 50 per cent higher by the end of this year.

"If the number of opioid-related deaths continues to increase at the weekly pandemic rate for the rest of 2020, it is anticipated that there will be 2,271 opioid-related deaths in the province by the end of the year. This would represent a 50-per-cent increase from the year prior (1,512 opioid-related deaths in 2019)," said the PHO report.

Len Gillis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com