WINDSOR, ONT. -- An extreme alert has been issued due to another increase in drug-related overdoses over the past week.

This is the second time in less than a week, the public health authority in Windsor-Essex made a warning about a high number of opioid overdoses.

“There are a number of partner agencies that are actively working to address the issue,” says Windsor-Essex medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed.

The Windsor-Essex Community Opioid and Substance Strategy (WECOSS) issued the alert Wednesday after the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit’s surveillance and monitoring system identified 16 opioid overdoses. Seven involving fentanyl.

“We know that the mental health impact of this pandemic it’s taking a toll on everyone, each one of us and people that have pre-existing mental health conditions or a history of addiction, they are feeling the effects much more severe than others and these high rates of overdoses is ringing an alarm in our community,” says Ahmed.

The 16 overdoses reported were primarily in Windsor, between April 26 and May 2. Additionally, there were 10 EMS overdose notifications flagged by the monitoring system.

A WECOSS statement reads, “Compared to historical weekly comparisons for the same time period, these indicators surpass our threshold levels for an extreme Alert.”

Safe consumption site in Windsor may be closer to reality

Ward 3 councillor Rino Bortolin sits on both the Windsor Police Services Board and WECHU Board. Disagrees with possible unsanctioned pop-up safe consumption/injection sites resuming after latest extreme alert.

“The way and the manner in which they wanted to do the pop-up safe injection sites is not the way to go about this and it’s a very serious thing,” he says. “That’s why the process is so throughout with the federal government and the health units. There’s so many considerations that have to be taken into consideration that just doing a pop-up can be very dangerous on its own side and realistically that is not the way to proceed on something this serious.”

Bortolin says official consumption sites are a tool in combating the crisis.

“What we’re trying to do by connecting with these people is trying to get them eventually into a stream where they can get help for the drug addiction,” he says. “By opening quick pop-ups, you’re not actually dealing with that side, and you’re not encouraging them to get help in a different way. While pop-ups can be seen as an answer, it’s the wrong way to go. An official consumption site is the best way to move forward on this.”

When WECHU put out a request for properties, it yielded zero response.

“They (WECHU) have a short list of sites and they’re going through that final process of working with the landlords and property owners to secure the sites,” he says. “They’ve been working with myself, other community members to make sure that there is support for the location, because that is important as well because it does have an impact on the neighbourhood.”

He says more details should come out within the next month or so.

Bortolin says once a site is selected the process begins, including public consultation with the community and other organizations before the application goes before city council for endorsement, then to the federal government for approval.

“The process is onerous, but this is a serious endeavor,” he says. “There might be a lot of people that say hurry up and just do it but there would be a lot of residents and business owners who disagree, who want to make sure that it’s done and it’s done right.”

The WECOSS website offers information on signs and symptoms of an opioid overdose and what to do.

So far in 2021, WECOSS has issued seven overdose alerts.