The Path to Community Wellness in Thunder Bay

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Opioid Addiction - image: depositphotos.com
Opioid Addiction - image: depositphotos.com

Thunder Bay – To say there is a drug and alcohol problem in Thunder Bay is to make the most understated claim possible. Not only is there a serious problem with illegal drugs in our city, but that problem is killing hundreds of people every year.

It would be easy, too easy to seek to shame addicts. It would be way too easy to start filling jail cells with addicts. However nothing there will solve the problem.

At the base of much of the work that Thunder Bay Police and Superior North EMS do annually is respond to calls for people suffering from addiction. Police Officers in addition to their sidearm, handcuffs, and needed tools are also carrying Naxolone kits on their belts.

It would be way too easy to point fingers of blame too.

We see that all the time in Thunder Bay, lots of the blame game, but we don’t see lots of solutions.

So let us talk solutions!

The Ontario Medical Association in the recently released “Prescription for Northern Ontario” states that “The profound and disproportionate impact of the opioid crisis and mental health issues in northern Ontario” needs to be addressed.

That is certain.

First getting people dealing with addictions off the illegal drugs they are addicted to starts with de-tox treatment beds. Thunder Bay simply does not have enough spaces for the people who want to get off drugs.

There are talks ongoing with Ontario over funding of more treatment beds.

Honestly put, from talking to experts, and from talking to addicts, the truth is there is a window of opportunity when a drug user decides they have had enough and want to quit.

If they can get into treatment, there is hope that can happen along with that desire to quit.

Sadly, in Thunder Bay the Balmoral Centre has only 25 beds. Getting one of those beds is hard. The demand is far greater than the supply.

There are a reported average of eight people turned away from Balmoral Centre on most days.

Imagine if Thunder Bay Police when finding an intoxicated person were able to take them to detox or to a facility which could care for them instead of incarcerate them. Often Police are left with no real option except for putting someone in jail, or taking them to the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.

That puts undue pressure on the TBRHSC, and since intoxication in most cases is not a medical emergency it simply fails to address the issue.

The City of Thunder Bay has come under a great deal of criticism over not dealing with this issue. Some seem to feel that local politicians have ignored the issue.

The truth is most people in the city have ignored the issues – and have done so to a point where the problem has grown to a massive proportion.

Truth is, for many people the idea of spending money on addiction treatment is seen as wasteful. They would rather see new facilities, better roads and other benefits.

However in a discussion with Mayor Bill Mauro, the Mayor says Council has been working with the provincial government and community partners for almost two years toward getting what is really needed.

Provincial Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Michael Tibollo has been heavily involved in working toward solutions here too.

There is also the factor of homelessness, the issue with addiction is that some addicts will put their illness ahead of everything else. That is the reality of addiction.

So often those seriously addicted to drugs or alcohol end up on the streets in many cases.

Thunder Bay should be working toward becoming Ontario’s top centre for drug and alcohol treatment.

There should not only be more detox spaces, but there needs to be enough spaces in new treatment centres to help shift people who are soon to be former addicts into a new life.

This means transitional housing, job training, and help to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

It would be expensive in the shorter run but the long-term benefit to our society and to the economy would be well worth the investment.

Heading into the June provincial election and the October civic election in 2022 let us hope voters are sending a message to those seeking their votes that long term thinking is needed here.

James Murray