'We don’t have time. Our loved ones are dying': Walpole Island officials and residents to discuss opioid crisis

Residents of Walpole Island First Nation are meeting Thursday to discuss a new approach to the ongoing opioid crisis.

This after a State of Emergency was declared in July after a rise in illicit drug use and overdoses in the community.

“How do we engage ourselves to help these people?” says Chief Charles Sampson.

Speaking with CTV News, Sampson said a critical path forward is needed to address social problems taking place, noting a 24/7 check point that had been erected a month ago was proving ineffective.

“It was actioned without any type of identifiable programming or action plan and more importantly to identify and evaluate its effectiveness and its performance over a month period,” he says.

Sampson says one opioid related death has been reported so far in 2021 and that 12 overdoses were brought to police attention. Sampson believes that number could be higher.

“It quite possibly could be,” Sampson explains. “I don’t know what other types of responses there have been by individuals that have the necessary antidote (Naloxone) to the poisoning effect of the drugs.”

Meantime, the fifth annual Lights for Hope Vigil, honoring those who have died of an overdose, are still fighting the disease of addiction or are in recovery is set to place in on Saturday. Elizabeth Geddes of Hand in Hand Support says organizers anticipate a large turnout.

“A lot of individuals out there still have that mentality that they’re worthless. That there’s no hope for them and that’s just not the case,” Geddes says.

The event is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. at Senator Croll Park.

“We still have a lot of overdoses out there,” Geddes says. “Overdoses are now the leading cause of death in young people between the ages of 19 and 39. We don’t have time. Our loved ones are dying.”

Like officials on Walpole Island, Geddes believes more needs to be done.

“This is a disease like any other disease and I really feel it needs to be treated that way,” Geddes says.

Naloxone kits will be available at the candlelight vigil to raise further awareness to the opioid crisis.

“We’re in an opioid crisis,” says Chatham-Kent’s medical officer of health Dr. David Colby says

He plans to present a report to Chatham-Kent council on Monday detailing the benefits of harm reduction through decriminalizing opioids.

“Really we have to rely on preventing people from becoming dependent and reduce the harm to them and to others in society that dependence causes,” Dr. Colby says.

He says non-criminal consequences like fines, warnings, or even the legalization of opioids could have more positive consequences than the criminality approach.

“I would say this is a pretty mainstream opinion among people that know anything about this,” he says.