Ottawa officials brace for ‘perfect storm’ as COVID-19 contributes to increased drug overdoses

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Even some laudable measures put in place to deal with the fallout from COVID-19 have led to unintentional harms. Sarrazin points to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program that has helped so many people weather the financial maelstrom created by the coronavirus as one example, providing those with substance-use disorder a regular stream of cash, thus removing them from the daily hustle. Getting out of that grind is one of the goals of Safer Supply Ottawa, but without as many supports in place to direct those energies into such needs as health care, housing and employment, it often leads to a one-step-forward, two-steps-back situation.

Simply the COVID-19-imposed decrease in contact between health-care professionals and those consuming illicit opioids and other drugs, says Sandy Hill’s Boyd, puts up a barrier to treatment.

“It’s hard to get over that initial threshold of going into treatment, so it’s really helpful when you have that frequent contact with health-care professionals or social workers or drop-in or shelter staff where, at that moment when you want to make a change, somebody is there to help you continue your motivation towards that change.”

Additionally, Boyd notes, some services no longer benefit large parts of the population that use supervised consumption sites, such as Sandy Hill’s addiction and mental-health counselling, which is now done online, rather than in person.

“The social system really fell completely apart for them.”

The decrease in supports, Barnes further points out, comes at a time when COVID-19 is also heaping fear and anxiety onto an already vulnerable group whose response to the added stress, in many cases, is to turn to opioids more frequently.

“That’s what’s happening,” he says, “and it’s worrisome.”

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