Today, our two-month Highlander Investigates series into drug-related issues in the County comes to an end.
For those who have not followed, it is available in the Highlander archives commencing January 7, 2021.
The installments began with a look at how the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) is tackling a much more sophisticated illicit drug trade in the County. We found that 2020 saw increased drug activity as well as a number of large busts. We reported on the link between drugs and property crime over the past few years. We went on to reveal that while the OPP is aggressively targeting the activity, the courts have not been as robust as no one arrested and charged in 2020 was convicted. In fact, there were repeat offenders during the course of the year.
From there, we shifted to looking at the opioid problem locally. We discovered that COVID-19 has contributed to increased use and resulted in overdose deaths in the health unit region.
We also heard from a long-time user, who highlighted some of the challenges people who use opioids have in getting help in our rural and regional setting. She spoke of single mothers living far down County roads struggling with issues of addiction brought on by numerous challenges, including isolation and poverty.
From there, we shifted to youth drug use, finding out that many students begin with marijuana usage prior to the legal age of 18.
We also heard from a man who has overcome a 33-year addiction to cocaine and other drugs.
Today, we look at solutions, including resources for people who use drugs and are still struggling.
Our intent was to shed light on the problem. It was to generate a conversation. It was aimed at shifting denial. Some in this County would not want a drug problem to interfere with its promotion of the area as a clean getaway for out-of-towners, whether tourists or potential seasonal and full-time residents.
And while some would say our drug problem is no worse than any other town of our size in Ontario, or Canada, we are challenging the community to collectively want more than that. We should want change.
How does that change come about? Not just acceptance but looking at the underlying issues.
Our County is somewhat unique in that we have people living in multi-million-dollar homes and cottages on waterfronts while others live in poverty, in ramshackle homes down County roads. Talk to service agencies, including food banks, and they can attest to some of the deplorable conditions. This is driven by a number of factors, but part of the problem is attributable to an economy that creates not enough well-paying jobs, or too many seasonal jobs. Cycles of poverty go hand-in-hand with depression and despondency which can lead a person to self-medicate.
We hope the public has read the stories of people such as Anne and John Buffalo Killen and come away with more empathy. And we hope that those those in positions of power and policy-makers have made notes.