After nearly two dozen overdoses in less than 48 hours, an eastern Ontario city is declaring a state of emergency.
Bellville, Ont. has made the declaration following a surge in overdoses, including 14 in a two hour period on Tuesday afternoon.
This follows a warning issued by the city’s police force urging the public to avoid unnecessary travel to the downtown area and to exercise caution, after reports of “a significant number of overdoses.”
Police urged residents to avoid areas where emergency personnel were actively engaged and for motorists to ensure traffic lanes remained clear for emergency vehicles.
Emergency responders were called to five overdoses from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Jan. 31.
Police Chief Mike Callaghan warned in November of the local opioid crisis, as Hastings-Quinte paramedics responded to 90 drug poisoning calls in one week.
“If we don’t do something about it now, people are going to die,” he said.“Sometimes, we’re having several overdoses at exactly the same time.”
Maureen Hyland of Hastings Prince Edward Public Health told True North in an email the contaminated drug supply is responsible for increases in drug poisonings.
She said community partners are working to finalize a Community Drug Strategy that will be implemented over the next three to five years.
“This strategy aims to identify and implement collaborative solutions for the most pressing issues related to unregulated substances within our community,” Hyland said.
Jeff Iscan, 67, has worked in security in downtown Belleville for three years and thinks there needs to be more police action downtown.
“It’s not very safe at all. It’s just too easy for drug users, with too many resources, free stuff and handouts. Catch and release is also a problem,” Iscan said.
Iscan thinks fewer incentives for homeless people to come to Belleville and more punishments for drug dealers are what the city needs to tackle the drug use problem in the city.
“I think they need undercover police walking around getting involved, buying drugs off them
and busting them,” he said. “There are too many handouts. People are coming here because they know they can get meals three times a day. They can go to the church and get handouts.”
Iscan is currently on leave from the job due to medical reasons.
“As a security, I don’t have any authority. I had a difficult time chasing them out of the restrooms and bus terminals, and I was even assaulted in one of the bus terminals by a homeless person,” Iscan said.
He recalled times he called the police after encountering trespassers. The police took about 30 minutes to arrive on the scene, which, according to Iscan, is just “not quick enough.”
Public health officials say those who use drugs should not do so alone and not mix drugs. They also recommend having at least one naloxone kit nearby.
Anyone who is using drugs alone can also call the National Overdose Response Service at 1-888-688-6677, and someone will stay on the line with them.