There have been fewer fatal overdoses in Thunder Bay, Ont., this year compared to last, but Juanita Lawson says one death is one too many.
As chief executive officer of NorWest Community Health Centres, which runs the city’s safe consumption site, she knows too well how the deadly opioid crisis has deeply impacted the community at large.
Thunder Bay had the highest per capita rate of opioid-related deaths in Ontario last year. In the first two quarters of 2023, there have been 40 overdose deaths reported by the Office of the Chief Coroner, compared to 84 in 2022.
At Path 525, the only safe consumption site in northwestern Ontario, staff have witnessed 94 overdoses this year. In the presence of health-care professionals, no one has died there, but the mixture of toxic substances seen in the street supply has become increasingly concerning.
Heading into the holidays, Lawson is reminding people of the services they offer and of the importance of getting their drugs tested.
“The stats are really telling us that going into December, going into January, that is an incredibly difficult time for people and that’s when we’re seeing a lot of overdoses, a lot of deaths,” she said.