The world is shining a light today on the devastating toll that drug addiction and the opioid crisis have taken on our communities, as it marks international Overdose Awareness Day. The Middlesex-London Health Unit stands with its community partners today, supporting those living with addiction, remembering the lives lost to overdose, sharing in the grief of families and friends who have lost loved ones, and recognizing that the opioid crisis is not over.
While the Health Unit distributed more than 12,000 naloxone kits in 2021, it also received reports of 1,139 overdoses last year. This is in addition to sharp increases in emergency department visits (545 in 2019; 729 in 2020; and 1,037 in 2021), hospitalizations (75 in 2019; 83 in 2020; and 127 in 2021) and deaths (60 in 2019; 101 in 2020; 2021 data is not yet available) associated with opioid poisonings. Province-wide statistics available through Public Health Ontario also indicate there were 17,052 emergency department visits and 2,405 hospitalizations related to the use of opioids in 2021. With figures for 2021 not yet available, the most recent data for opioid-related deaths shows that 6,265 people across Canada lost their lives to opioid poisonings, of whom 2,460 were in Ontario.
“The increases we’ve seen in emergency room visits, hospitalizations and deaths are shocking,” says Dr. Alex Summers, Medical Officer of Health with the Middlesex-London Health Unit. “International Overdose Awareness Day is an opportunity to shift our focus back to addressing these challenges. We look to join our community partners in addressing this crisis and the issues of poverty and homelessness that are linked to it.”
Naloxone kits are available through the Health Unit, Regional HIV/AIDS Connection (RHAC) and pharmacies across Ontario, for people who use opioid drugs like fentanyl, as well as for their friends and family members. The kits contain naloxone, a drug that can reverse an opioid-related overdose, potentially saving a life and making it possible for individuals to receive urgent medical care. For a list of locations where free naloxone kits are available, visit: www.ontario.ca/page/where-get-free-naloxone-kit.
As part of International Overdose Awareness Day, Health Unit staff members will hand out support bags to those who access the MLHU’s needle-syringe program and to clients served by the agency’s outreach team. Each bag contains a reusable water bottle, a granola bar, and clean socks, as well as a business card showing the location of both the MLHU’s needle-syringe program and the location of the Carepoint program at 446 York Street.
Held annually on August 31st, International Overdose Awareness Day is a global event that aims to increase awareness about overdoses, reduce stigma, and remember lives lost due to drug use. For more information about locations and organizations that provide treatment, detox and support services, visit: www.healthunit.com/opioid-resources.
Dan Flaherty, Communications Manager, Middlesex-London Health Unit,
519 663-5317, extension 2469 or 519 617-0570 (cell)
Dr. Alex Summers, Medical Officer of Health, Middlesex-London Health Unit