Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation declares state of emergency over opioid crisis

Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation declares state of emergency over opioid crisis

The Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation has declared a state of emergency over the opioid crisis as overdoses and deaths continue to devastate the community.

“The community has become very concerned and have decided that enough is enough,” Chief Greg Sarazin told CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning on Thursday.

Pikwàkanagàn is located in Renfrew County, about 150 kilometres west of Ottawa.

People are just saying that we’re going to funerals way too much.– Chief Greg Sarazin

Sarazin said the frequency of overdoses and deaths has been increasing year after year, affecting young and old alike.

By declaring a state of emergency, the community can now call for additional resources, services and funding before it becomes overwhelmed, Sarazin said.

“We’re dealing with prevention issues, treatment issues, after-care issues but also enforcement issues,” he said. “We have been working with the [Ontario Provincial Police] to help us to sort out what’s the source of those drugs [and] how we can eliminate that source.”

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In October, the Renfrew County and District Health Unit warned residents of “an increase in overdose calls and suspected overdose-related deaths in the Pembroke catchment area.”

Based on data from the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario and provided to CBC News by the health unit, Renfrew County and District averaged five opioid-related deaths a year before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Between 2020 and 2022, the annual toll rose to between two and four times higher than in pre-pandemic years, while preliminary figures for the first six months of 2023 indicate 12 opioid-related deaths. Altogether, the county has experienced 34 suspected drug-related deaths this year.

It’s been a similar story nearby in the nation’s capital.

According to Ottawa Public Health’s Stop Overdose webpage, July 2023 saw the highest number of confirmed opioid overdose visits to emergency departments within the past three years. 

Ottawa saw 93 confirmed opioid-related deaths in the first half of 2023, the most recent statistics available. There were 148 opioid-related deaths in Ottawa last year.

Ottawa Morning6:48Pikwakanagan First Nation declares state of emergency over opiod crisis

Chief Greg Sarazin says increased services have been unable to keep up with needs of the community.

Sarazin said the First Nation has a skilled and professional treatment team, but is simply overwhelmed.

“It’s just not enough. We need more resources,” he said. 

This weekend a celebration of life will be held for Sarazin’s brother, who didn’t die of an overdose but “due to the opioid crisis or the social ills that are within the lifestyle that comes with that,” Sarazin said.

“People are just saying that we’re going to funerals way too much,” he said. “We’re losing our people, we need to reduce the harm that’s happening in our community.”

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