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Nottawasaga OPP launches educational campaign surrounding opioids

August 6, 2020   ·   0 Comments

Drugs don’t affect everyone in the same way, and many don’t get addicted, but similar to a finger print, everybody’s brain chemistry is different.

A disposition towards drug dependency can be traced back to genetics, as they account for 40 to 60 per cent of a person’s vulnerability to addiction, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 

Messages like this, designed to eliminate stigma and boost awareness around opioids, are being shared by the Nottawasaga OPP through a renewed public awareness campaign.

“Essentially, we’re just really concentrating on the public education piece,” noted Cst. Katy Viccary of the Nottawasaga OPP, who’s a member of the Nottawasaga Opioid Advisory Group.

She said initially the campaign was planned for the spring but they didn’t want their message to get washed out by all of the COVID-19 communications that were being released.

However, it’s important to remember that opioid use is a public health crisis too.

Canadians suffered over 15,000 opioid related deaths from January of 2016 to December of last year.

And New Tecumseth isn’t immune, Stevenson Memorial Hospital was seeing roughly 12-14 opioid overdoses each year prior to 2018, but in 2019 that number doubled to 27, according to the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU).

“The data is showing an upward trend and that’s what we were hearing too in conversations that we were having with community partners and folks that you might encounter on the street,” said Cathy Eisener, SMDHU Public Health Nurse and member of the Nottawasaga Opioid Advisory Working Group.

When it comes to crime, roughly half of all investigations for the Nottawasaga OPP’s Street Crime Team involves opioids, according to the detachment’s commander Steve Ridout, who’s a member of the working group.

The most commonly used opioids are Vicodin, Oxycontin, morphine, codeine and fentanyl, which are often prescribed to relieve pain.

While these drugs are effective at blocking the brain’s pain receptors, they can be highly addictive.

A portion of people who receive a prescription build a tolerance and suffer from withdrawals when they try to quit.

“With the opioid, the body’s natural response is to slowly develop dependence and need a higher dosage, even if taking them as prescribed by a physician,” Eisenar said.

Because of this, opioid dependence can affect anyone, from middle aged men who receive a prescription following a back surgery to a teenager who just had their wisdom teeth out.

“Opioid addiction doesn’t discriminate between age, gender or social income. There are groups that are maybe more impacted, but it really does span everyone,” Eisener stressed.

“I think one of the biggest misconceptions out there is what someone who uses opioids looks like. There seems to be a preconceived idea of what that it is and that ‘it can’t happen to me,’” she added.

“We had a whole campaign about that, that people who use drugs are real people. They have family, they have friends – everyone in their circle is impacted if they move along that spectrum of use.”

Due to stigma surrounding drug addiction, its important to make sure people who are affected by an opioid dependency can feel comfortable accessing support, noted Eisenar.

“We know stigma is a huge barrier for people accessing supports; if they’ve been treated poorly or felt stigmatized accessing a service in the past, chances are they’re not going to go back there,” she explained.

“We’re really trying to break down those pieces and bring in a more human side.”

One of the common misconceptions among the general public is that the cycle of addiction is voluntary, Eisenar said.

“It’s not a choice, no one wakes up one day and says ‘I think I’m going to start injecting heroin today…’ that’s not where it comes from,” she noted.

Trauma, genetics and adverse childhood experiences are some of the proven factors that can lead someone to drug addiction.

Having a proactive approach to opioid abuse and creating partnerships in the community to address its root causes is the best way to tackle this issue, according to Ridout.

“It’s not a problem we’re going to be able to arrest ourselves out of; we need to get people help and get them to the resources that they need,” he said.

The Opioid Advisory Working Group utilizes an understanding, empathetic and evidence-based approach when addressing the issues in the community.

The group has been heavily impacted by COVID-19 but hopes to reconvene in the fall.

By Sam Odrowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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