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Local opioid crisis 'worsening daily' as pandemic continues: Ottawa doctor

Dr. Jeff Turnbull, director of Ottawa Inner City Health, says overdoses are killing younger people.

Canada's opioid crisis is being made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, an Ottawa doctor says as he points to a lapse in care for mental health and physical pain, among other factors.

Between April and September 2020, the Public Health Agency of Canada reports 3,351 people died of an opioid-related overdose in Canada, but those on the front lines of the opioid crisis in Ottawa say the problem has quickly gotten worse since those latest figures.

"It's increased by 50, 60 per cent over the last year, but it seems to be escalating week-on-week," says Dr. Jeff Turnbull, director of Ottawa Inner City Health.  "So, it's not steady by any means, and worsening daily."

Dr. Turnbull says the most stunning statistics, for him, are the spikes in opioid overdose deaths among younger people, aged 25 to 35.

"Another consequence of the COVID crisis is that people are not getting appropriate treatment for their mental health challenges," Dr. Turnbull tells The Rob Snow Show on CityNews Ottawa. "And that, like pain, if it's not treated well, people turn to other injection drug use that can, in part, control their mental health problems."

Physical distancing rules have forced supervised injection sites to let in fewer clients and Dr. Turnbull says more people are using opioids while alone, with no one to call for help if they overdose.

Jason White

About the Author: Jason White

Jason is an award-winning reporter at CityNews Ottawa. He brings about two decades of experience in news, with stops in Halifax and Toronto.
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