As overdose crisis drags on, advocates in Thunder Bay call for swifter action from the province

Advocates say they’re getting frustrated with the Ontario government’s response to the overdose crisis in the Thunder Bay district.

The district had the highest number of overdose deaths per capita in Ontario in 2021. While 2022 statistics aren’t yet available, outreach worker Kyle Arnold says he believes those numbers will be similar.

“I believe that we are going to run pretty close to the same statistics, if not more,” he said. “I feel it’s weekly, monthly that I’m losing clients nonstop to this overdose crisis, and to the lifestyle that comes with it.

“I’m seeing so many more violent crimes, human trafficking, and that’s all in the name of drugs.”

Carolyn Karle lost her daughter Dayna to an overdose in September 2021, and has since started a charity called Team DEK with the goal of bringing more support to the city.

“I think I’m getting a little bit frustrated for the folks like Kyle in the community, and the agencies,” she said. “We often talk about frontline workers and they are right in there with that. It’s very worrisome to me.”

“We’re doing a lot of talking,” Karle said. “We’re going to a lot of meetings. We’re meeting a lot of great agencies that are doing terrific work out there. But I just feel like there’s so much more that can be done.”

Carolyn Karle holds a photo of her daughter Dayna, 31, who died in 2021 from an unintentional overdose in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Logan Turner/CBC)

Arnold said there have been positive moves made over the years, including new transitional housing, withdrawal beds, and a safer drug supply pilot project.

However, he added, there still aren’t enough withdrawal beds, and people in need are still being turned away. And those who do get access to a bed are finding their stays very short, as the need is so high.

“We don’t have enough beds,” he said. “There was an application put in a year and a half ago on [Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Michael] Tibollo’s desk about a bigger treatment centre, so that people would be able to stay there for the 30 days, they’d be able to get that mental health help, that addiction help and get them on the right road.”

Arnold said facilities like Thunder Bay’s Crossroads Centre only has funding to run at half-capacity.

Karle, meanwhile, said more beds for women are needed in the city, as well.

“I really want to see a woman’s aftercare facility,” she said. “If the girls can get out of town to go to treatment, and if they wanted to come back, they would have somewhere safe to go.”

Karle noted that it’s not safe to put women in recovery into housing, due to activities by drug dealers, such as home takeovers.

“They have to have a good, safe, beautiful, healthy environment to live in,” Karle said. “And that’s what I’d love to see.”

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