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St. Catharines joins campaign focusing on youth overdose for International Overdose Awareness Day

St. Catharines joins campaign focusing on youth overdose for International Overdose Awareness Day

St. Catharines joins campaign focusing on youth overdose for International Overdose Awareness Day

The City of St. Catharines is joining a local campaign for International Overdose Awareness Day to raise awareness, break the stigma, and taking action to help young people struggling with addiction and overdose.

The flags at City Hall have been lowered to remember community members who have tragically lost their lives to overdose and purple ribbons and crosses have been placed by community members in honour of their loved ones. A poster campaign and purple hearts are on display across the city in support of the campaign led by OPENN – the Overdose Prevention and Education Network of Niagara. Many local businesses are also displaying signs and ribbons until Sept. 6 to mourn the loss of community members who have died from overdose.

International Overdose Awareness Day comes at a critical time as the number of opioid overdoses and overdose deaths in Niagara continues to climb. One of the most recent overdose deaths that struck the community comes from a grieving father, Steve Borisenko whose 21-year-old son Jacob passed away from an unintentional opioid overdose in June. Through hearing Jacob’s story and seeing Steve’s commitment to action, the Mayor’s Office together with OPENN will be convening a  youth-focused opioid task force this September.

“It is no secret that Niagara has seen an increase in dangerous street drugs and opioid overdoses, and this has become even more serious through the pandemic,” said Mayor Sendzik. “Today, while we are supporting people who are struggling and families who are grieving, we are also taking action by talking about substance abuse and putting a focus on youth and teenagers who have increasingly easy access to dangerous street drugs.”

Working with OPENN, the Mayor’s Office is organizing a youth-focused opioid task force with service providers and agencies including Niagara Health, Positive Living Niagara, Community Addictions Services of Niagara, Pathstone Mental Health, Niagara Region Public Health, Brock University, Niagara College and local school boards. The work will start this September and continue through OPENN.

“For the last few years OPENN has been working hard to break the stigma and get naloxone kits into the community and save lives. Now with the increasing trends and easy access to street drugs, it is more important than ever that we work together to reach young people who are being targeted through social media and online,” said Mayor Sendzik. “While I’m proud of the leadership St. Catharines has taken to respond to the opioid crisis, we have to do more to prevent more young people like Jacob from leaving us. By putting a spotlight on the issues that young people are dealing with we will find new strategies and more resources to address this very serious problem,” said the Mayor.

While free access to naloxone kits has been a life-saving resource for many, the dangers of opioid overdose is still a huge problem in Niagara. In 2020, 150 people in Niagara died from confirmed opioid-related deaths – approximately 13 deaths per month. This year, from January to July, 2021 Niagara Emergency Medical Services responded to 509 suspected overdoses – approximately 73 per month in Niagara. Increasingly, first responders are seeing the trend of youth and young people overdosing from dangerous street drugs laced with fentanyl which can be deadly.

“Opioid overdose is a very real problem that we have to talk about as a community. Substance use is not only an issue that affects the individual, but it also affects families, friends, and entire communities,” said Talia Storm, co-chair of OPENN. “That is why it is so important that we work together to reduce the stigma associated with substance use, listen to those most affected, address social determinants of health, and support people through prevention, harm reduction, and treatment programs with the goal of a safer community.”

Anyone struggling with addiction and substance use can reach out to CASON and other support agencies in Niagara by calling 211. Anyone interested to learn more about naloxone and help break the stigma of addictions and overdose is encouraged to contact Positive Living Niagara.

Agencies that work with youth and provide addictions support can contact mayor@stcatharines.ca to be part of the conversation.