Mark Arike: Drug use shouldn't be a surprise
|By Mark Arike - Staff Writer | January 4 2018|
Just before the holidays, Dysart councillors were told about a serious drug problem in Haliburton. Public health nurse, Francine Fernandes delivered the news that the Haliburton Highland Pharmacy distributed 6,000 needles to drug users through its needle exchange program. Several drugs are taken intravenously, including heroin, cocaine and fentanyl. These are some of the most common substances, but not all of them.
And, just as concerning, is the fact that discarded needles have been found in garbage bins in Head Lake Park and on main street, potentially endangering municipal staff tasked with keeping the village clean. The park itself is a popular place for users to do drugs, according to Fernandes. It was disheartening to hear, especially when her presentation followed delegations about two new family-friendly events planned for the park this summer.
Some councillors were taken aback by how prevalent drug use is. Mayor Murray Fearrey said, ‘It’s an astounding number of people using them.” But it really shouldn’t be that shocking. Haliburton County is one of the poorest counties in the province. Many residents are isolated, have trouble finding full-time employment and can’t access the limited resources available due to a lack of transportation. They struggle to make ends meet and coping is difficult. Often, alcohol and drugs are the only escape.
There are also other factors at play, including mental illness, upbringing and education. It’s important to note that not all drug users are those down and out. Some are business owners and other professionals.
In 2016, it came to the community’s attention that Haliburton County has the second highest rate of use of doctor prescribed opioids in the province. The local health unit and several other agencies joined forces to develop a drug strategy to combat the misuse of these drugs. Fernandes recommended installing a needle box in the community for used needles. It will be locked and hold about 6,000 needles.
Council made the right decision by approving the request. The safety of staff and the public is of the utmost importance. Deputy Mayor Andrea Roberts, who sits on the board of the health unit as a representative for the county, said she was aware of the “staggering” numbers in the area. But, Coun. Walt McKechnie admitted he’s very naive to drugs. They don’t need to be experts, but all councillors should have general knowledge of what’s going on so they can have informed conversations and make decisions in everyone’s best interests.
A good way of doing that would be to attend annual board meetings of other organizations, stay in touch and show up to events that address these subjects. For example, youth suicide and mental health is another important topic right now. Haliburton has been described as “a community in crisis” because of the deaths of young people. Yet not one councillor was at a recent forum at the high school.
As beautiful as Haliburton is and a destination place for tourists, it has real problems that aren’t going away anytime soon.
MARK ARIKE is a reporter for The Highlander.