Region of Waterloo Public Health officials say less people are using the Consumption Treatment Site due to the COVID-19 pandemic and that has led to more overdose numbers.

This has also led to a fight for more programs that would allow access to safe supplies.

There have been 64 overdose related deaths in Waterloo Region so far this year. In 2019 there were a total of 63 and in 2018 the number reached 61.

“We see and we feel the heaviness, especially this year of the community losses,” said Alice Maguire, clinical supervisor of Sanguen Health Centre.

She attributes the tragic trend to the pandemic.

“People are told to isolate, to be physically separate from folks, and you can’t naloxone yourself,” said Maguire.

The supervisor adds that there has been a massive reduction in services at the CTS on Duke Street in Kitchener since the pandemic began in March.

The same can be said for the Guelph Community Health Centre.

“[We were at] 35 visits per day and since March we’ve seen an average per day of 15,” said Melissa Kwiatkowksi, primary health director at the Guelph CHC.

She adds that while public health deals with COVID-19, the opioid crisis isn’t going away.

“The supply has been toxic for quite some time,” said Kwiatkowski. “It’s changing very rapidly and it’s very unpredictable.”

Officials at Guelph’s CTS say there’s been 15 overdose deaths this year, which is twice as much as the number in 2019.

“Providing prescription opioids at a level that is managed by a physician or nurse practitioner monitored closely,” said Kwiatkowski. “This really provides a lot of stability [for users.]”

Maguire agrees that this idea will allow people to know what they’re taking and where it came from.

A petition by an Ontario drug strategy network is asking the federal and provincial government to increase funding in order to create a program for safe supply.

Maguire says that if the community works to erase the stigma around drug use, it would make people more willing to call into 911 to prevent an overdose.

“This is not just a number,” she said. “Numbers are people, individuals who are not with us who have died preventable deaths.”

Maguire adds that the federal government needs to look into decriminalizing simple substance use to further break down the stigma.