Sun. Mar 3rd, 2024

The northern Ontario city has an overdose death rate three times higher than the provincial average. Anatomy of a crisis with various ramifications.

À Sudbury, the daily drama of the opioid crisis

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One ​​of many crosses from the Sudbury “Crosses for Change” memorial.

  • Yasmine Mehdi (View profile)Yasmine Mehdi

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The memorial has dozens of white crosses, which stand with dignity at the corner of Brady and Paris streets. Dozens of faces and names: Pierre Gaudet, Selena Topolinski, Lebo Nicol, Skylar Ebbers. All died of an overdose, like at least 255 Sudbury residents since 2021.

This is a scourge in the North of Ontario, and Sudbury is not spared. Last year, the small French-speaking town had an overdose death rate three times higher than the provincial average – and nine times higher than that of Quebec.

We're going to show you the opioid crisis, says agent Jordan Mills, sitting at the wheel of his patrol car with nurse Chantal Séguin at his side. The duo was trained by police and Sudbury Hospital to respond to mental health calls. But in reality, it is mainly the opioid crisis that they are facing.

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We follow Jordan and Chantal for about an hour. In this short time, the team intervenes with a man overdosing, unconscious on the sidewalk. She is then called to an abandoned building, where a person has been found dead.

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Jordan Mills responds to a call for an overdose in downtown Sudbury. The police officer calls an ambulance, then remains on scene while waiting for the man to be picked up.

Jordan Mills responds to an overdose call in downtown Sudbury. The officer calls an ambulance, then stays there while the man is picked up.

Photo album: Sudbury

Probably an overdose, says Jordan , standing in an unsanitary stairwell, dirty syringes at his feet.

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This pace of work is usual for police officers in large urban centers like Toronto, Montreal or Ottawa . But in Sudbury, a city of some 165,000 people, authorities are overwhelmed.

It hurts my heart, confides Inspector Daniel Despaties, of the Greater Sudbury Police Service. The arrival of fentanyl and the pandemic have transformed the face of the city center of his hometown, where drug addicts consume in the cold, in plain sight, at the foot of businesses and at bus stops.

If we spend all our time on this, other things will fall out […] like murders, major criminal investigations, sex crimes or domestic violence.

A quote from Daniel Despaties, inspector with the Greater Sudbury Police Service

The mayor of Sudbury does not hesitate to speak of a crisis: hospitals are overwhelmed, police officers too, downtown merchants are complaining and services municipal authorities have reached their limit.

Our budget for social services has almost doubled in the last five years, explains Paul Lefebvre. We are doing more than we have ever done and the situation is not improving.

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Paul Lefebvre believes that it is up to the province to act against the opioid crisis, since it is a public health crisis.

The elected official would like the province to provide more support to the municipalities facing this crisis. He gives the example of Sudbury's only supervised injection center – which the Municipality agreed to temporarily fund last year in the absence of funds from the Ontario government.

To what extent can the Municipality do the work of other governments?

A quote from Paul Lefebvre, Mayor of Greater Sudbury

Where is it that it stops? To what extent must the Municipality offer services […] under provincial jurisdiction?, deplores Mayor Lefebvre. If we need more doctors at the hospital, will it still be up to us to move forward?

On July 7, a Toronto mother was killed by a stray bullet near a supervised injection site. Ontario's Progressive Conservative government then announced it was suspending funding for new centers – including Sudbury, which had been waiting to receive funds since 2021. The province is refusing to say when the freeze will end.

Faced with budgetary pressures, the City of Sudbury announced it would not renew funding for its supervised injection site, where about 200 people go each month to use drugs under the supervision of medical staff.

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There are four cubicles in the supervised injection center from Sudbury. A nurse supervises consumers at all times.

There are four cubicles in the Sudbury supervised injection center. A nurse supervises consumers at all times.

Photo album: Le Spot

Le “Spot” – as it is nicknamed – must therefore close its doors at the beginning of 2024, due to lack of funding of the Municipality or the province.

There are people who are alive because they came here, is convinced the director of services of supervised consumption, Amber Fritz. She says she is horrified at the idea of ​​going out of business.

We should be adding resources, instead of removing the only site we have.

A quote from Amber Fritz, Director of Services of supervised consumption in Sudbury

Sudbury Homeless Network coordinator Raymond Landry is stunned by the possible closure of Sudbury's supervised injection site – as the opioid crisis hits his city disproportionately.

It's going to be a loss that, as a society […] we cannot afford, warns Mr. Landry.

The province needs to see that [in Northern Ontario] there are increased and specific problems that need attention. special attention and specific resources.

A quote from Raymond Landry, coordinator of the Sudbury Homeless Network

Opioid crisis, housing crisis, homelessness crisis: Raymond Landry does not see an immediate end to this perfect storm, which has accelerated since the pandemic. We currently have 300 to 350 people experiencing homelessness in Sudbury. We have never seen this in the past, he illustrates.

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Raymond Landry works in Sudbury's community environment for decades.

The police also admit that they will not be able to put an end to this vicious circle. Inspector Despaties says he is disappointed by the possible closure of the supervised injection center – and is concerned about seeing the workload of his agents increase.

If people don't have a safe place to inject their drugs, they will do it on the roads, near businesses, in parks, he fears.

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Inspector Daniel Despaties reminds us that Sudbury is not the only city in Ontario — or in Canada — experiencing the effects of the opioid crisis.

It is difficult to quantify the number of lives saved by the Spot. Preliminary data for 2023, however, suggests that the number of overdose-related deaths is decreasing in Greater Sudbury – after increasing more than sixfold (559% increase) between 2016 and 2022.

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