We know that there is an opiates crisis in Canada’s largest cities with unprecedented numbers of people fatally overdosing.

But this national epidemic, caused both by prescription painkillers and illegal street drugs, is here at home in Eastern Ontario too.

Fentanyl and carfentanil are some of the most potent and dangerous opioids available. Fentanyl is sometimes prescribed in patch form to manage severe pain, while carfentanil, used in tranquilizers for large animals, was never intended for use by humans.

Both have been found in Ontario street drugs, with users often not knowing what they are taking nor realizing the danger.

According to the RCMP, fentanyl is 100 times more powerful than morphine. Even a small amount can cause an overdose or death.

Geneviève Arturi is the Director of the Mental Health & Addiction Regional Centre at the Hawkesbury and District General Hospital. She says that while this area hasn’t seen an increase in the demand for opioid issues like Ottawa and Montreal, it is important to collectively be prepared with other partners like the OPP, Paramedics and the Health Unit.

“We have been relatively stable. However, we know that there has been an increase in our very close geographical cities so that’s why we’re staying abreast of what is happening and it gives us a little bit of a sense of what may be coming,” says Arturi.

But stable doesn’t mean non-existent. Opioid-related emergency eepartment visits spiked in 2016 in Ontario at 4,427, up from 3,628 in 2015; 56 of those visits were in Eastern Ontario.

There were 6 opioid-related deaths reported in Eastern Ontario in 2016, out of the 867 province-wide.

She says that many local cases of hospitalization or treatment are for people who have been prescribed opioid-based medication, often without sufficient support on how to manage their treatment or understanding the addictive nature.

Both intervention and prevention strategies are critical right now for communities, and plans are underway here locally to ensure preparedness.

Arturi uses the example of high school students ending up hospitalized because a group didn’t realize they had taken opiates.

“If that happens in our area, we already have a plan of ‘who does what’ in terms of all the community agencies: to support emergency response, to support the families and support the kids.”

Additionally, the Local Health Integrated Network has funded a part-time position for the Prescott-Russell area to provide rapid response for opioid-related patients and their families.

A free information session for the community on opiates and fentanyl is being held at Knox Presbyterian Church, 29 High Street in Vankleek Hill, on Tuesday, March 27 at 7:00pm. Melanie Willard, author of “Dare to be Raw”, will be presenting along with Eric Larocque from Emergency Services for Prescott-Russell, Nikolas Hotte of the Eastern Ontario Health Unit and Jean-Alexandre Robillard-Cardinal of the Hawkesbury OPP.