Northern and rural Ontario communities are being hardest hit by the opioid crisis, mental health and addiction experts agree. 

An expert panel told TVO’s Steve Paikin that a lack of access to health resources, long waitlists and the coronavirus pandemic have contributed to a worsening situation. 

According to program manager for the Cochrane Temiskaming Canadian Mental Health Association Marc Lionello, more people are coming in with complex drug addictions. 

“I can say strongly with a lot of confidence, especially in the last five years, the difficulty in terms of the cases we’re looking at supporting has increased not only with the numbers, but the complexity of the cases, with the addition of not only opiates but with things like speed (amphetamine) and meth (methamphetamine). It is increasingly difficult to be able to support these individuals,” Lionello told Paikin.

In 2009, the Canadian Mental Health Association found that geography played a key role in the mental health of northern and rural Ontarians. 

“A lot of time, you know, if you are in Southern Ontario, the services might be a few blocks away or maybe just in the next town. A lot of times here (in Northern Ontario) they might be hundreds of kilometres away,” said professor and co-chair of Northern and rural health at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) Marion Maar during the panel. 

On top of the drug and health problems rural Canadians are likely to encounter, rural communities are also disproportionately impacted by higher crime rates than their urban and southern counterparts. 

“The overall rural-urban difference in crime rates is mostly due to high rural rates in the Prairies and in the Provincial North, which is defined as the northern regions of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador,” claimed a Statistics Canada report. 

“Overall, the crime rate in the rural Provincial North (14,512 incidents per 100,000 population) was three times higher than in the rural provincial South (4,706).” 

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