August 31st marks International Overdose Awareness Day, and West Nipissing health agencies held an event to commemorate and to raise awareness on the issues of overdose death and addictions. While the subject of the event may seem gloomy, the activity offered hope for those who are suffering through substance abuse and addiction. The West Nipissing General Hospital’s Alliance Centre, one of the organizers, provided information about their programs, which include drug addiction, alcohol addiction and mental health counseling. In addition to informative kiosks, a barbecue and cake, the district health unit gave demonstrations on how to administer naloxone to reverse the effects an overdose and prevent death, with free samples handed out. The event was a collaboration between the Alliance Centre, the West Nipissing Community Health Centre and the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit.
“It’s the first time we’ve had something of that grandeur in West Nipissing,” describes Lynn Perreault, Program Manager at the Alliance Centre, though they have often held awareness activities in the past. “Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, several activities such as Andrée’s Chili Luncheon, normally held during Mental Health Week in May, have had to be put on hiatus. However, Mental Health Week, International Overdose Awareness Day, World Suicide Prevention Awareness Day and Substance Abuse Awareness Week are recognized annually. We hope to be able to return to hosting various workshops and activities soon.”
The event was attended by approximately 100 people at the WN Community Health Centre (CHC), and speakers came from various organizations to share their stories. Dignitaries included Nipissing First Nation Gimaa (Chief) Scott McLeod and West Nipissing Deputy Mayor Yvon Duhaime, who both exclaimed the importance of the shedding light on a subject too often ignored. Gimaa McLeod stressed that people experiencing addictions are worthy of our care, that each is “a good person who didn’t experience good things in life,” often stemming from trauma and social injustice.
Guy Robichaud, Executive Director of the CHC, was pleased with the turnout. “It was great because a lot of people participated. It went very well. (…) We already had the barbecues and the space to host, so it was easy for us.” He adds that they are glad to help community organizations such as the Alliance Centre, with whom they often collaborate. “Our clientele gets referred to those services,” he notes, adding that addictions and mental health issues affect everyone.
Indeed, those issues are on the rise in local communities. In a news release announcing the August 31 event, the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit revealed that opioid-related deaths have been steadily increasing. They report 19 deaths in 2019, which grew to 50 in 2020 and 47 in 2021. “In the first quarter of 2022, there have been 13 confirmed and probable opioid-related deaths in our Health Unit region,” the Health Unit stressed.