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Windsor mother pushes for better addiction transitional supports amid doubling of opioid-related deaths

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A new study published in a Canadian medical journal paints a bleak picture around opioid-related deaths in Canada.

It shows the number of those deaths has more than doubled over a three-year period when the pandemic hit high gear.

The study, published recently in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, covers a period from January of 2019 to December 2021.

“There was this immediate and significant increase in opioid related deaths,” said Tara Gomes, an epidemiologist at Unity Health.

Over that three-year stretch, opioid deaths jumped from 3,007 in 2019 to more than 6,222 in 2022, which according to study authors equates to a quarter million years of life lost due to opioid-related deaths.

The group most affected is men between the ages of 30 and 39.

It hits close to home for Christy Soulliere of Windsor, Ont. who lost her son Austin Tremblay to an accidental overdose in November, 2022.

“He's gone. You know, and there's nothing worse in the world than losing a child,” said Soulliere.

She said Tremblay battled addiction since he was 15 and was in and out of treatment facilities more than a dozen times.

On his last day, after 30 days of sobriety, he took a substance which was laced with four times the lethal dose of fentanyl.

“I crumbled,” she recalled. “My world, everything I had fought 12 years to stop, it happened.”

Tremblay was just 27 years old.

In Ontario, one in three deaths of people in their 20s and 30s are opioid related and according to the study, they’re primarily caused by fentanyl.

“These are kids, it’s a whole generation. And if those numbers are right, it's 25 per cent of that generation is no longer going to be here,” said Soulliere. “I don't know how people aren't taking that serious.”

The report suggests the increase among younger age groups points to a critical need for targeted prevention efforts.

And that’s exactly what Soulliere is doing in her son’s memory.

She launched Austin’s Red Shoe Project with the goal of opening a transitional house for people who have gotten sober, left detox and need support before treatment beds open up.

“Nobody's staying sober for those four months. So there needs to be an area that fills that gap,” she said. “And there needs to be more support for families that are dealing with this themselves.”

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