Belleville declares state of drug emergency after latest wave of overdoses

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Mike Juby was in front of the Bridge Street United Church in Belleville, Ont., on Tuesday afternoon when people suddenly started falling onto the sidewalk all around him.

There were “ambulances left, right and center” as paramedics loaded people onto stretchers and rushed them to hospital, he recalled.

“It was ugly,” Juby said. “They’re all my friends. I know every single one of them. It’s a very difficult step.”

According to Belleville emergency officials 14 people overdosed in downtown eastern Ontario between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesday.

At one point, police closed a section of road and asked residents to avoid driving downtown, describing the situation as an “overdose emergency.” None of the overdoses proved fatal.

The city said Thursday morning that it had had 23 overdoses since Tuesday as of 2 p.m. and was declaring a state of emergency over the situation.

Tuesday’s series of overdoses occurred along E. Bridge Street, around the church where a drop-in center run by the John Howard Society of Belleville offers food, showers and laundry to homeless and other vulnerable residents.

The last 24 hours have had a “huge impact” on those who depend on and work on the site, according to JJ Cormier, executive director of the organization.

“There were five individuals who were outside, walking on the sidewalk, and all five collapsed at the exact same time,” Cormier said.

“These people are… our family, and we are their family.”

A woman with red hair in a tight ponytail stares at him.  Behind her are a police SUV and a large stone church.
JJ Cormier is the general manager of the John Howard Society of Belleville. She says the overdoses have been difficult for staff and clients who rely on the walk-in service her organization runs at Bridge Street United Church. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Juby said watching so many people he knew overdose at the same time was frustrating and scary.

“It’s disappointing. It hurts,” he said.

“I don’t know where it’s coming from, but I hope it stops.”

Cause not yet known

On Wednesday, a press conference brought together emergency, city and health officials.

While harm reduction workers in Ottawa And Toronto discovered animal tranquilizers As for local medications, Hastings Prince Edward Public Health’s (HPEPH) medical officer of health said it’s too early to determine exactly what’s causing the increase in overdoses in Belleville.

“It’s too early for this particular event to know exactly what might be in the drug supply, what those particular effects would be, but this is part of a general trend that is seriously affecting the community,” said Dr. Ethan Toumishey .

All in one day12:23 p.m.Police say Belleville emergency responders responded to 14 overdose incidents Tuesday.

Belleville police say an “overdose emergency” is affecting the city’s downtown area. Hastings Prince Edward Public Health told us how they are working to address this issue.

The doctor added that although the spike in cases was “particularly high” this week, the problem is not new.

“It continues to ring alarm bells, but … the alarm bells have been ringing for a while now,” Toumishey said.

Belleville leaders sounded the alarm in November during a previous news conference, amid a new wave of overdose calls.

On Tuesday, Mayor Neil Ellis said the city was facing “a very serious drug, addiction and mental health problem.”

He and Police Chief Mike Callaghan said the problem was too serious for Belleville to tackle alone and called on the provincial government to develop a plan to help.

“We need funds…human resources, capital resources to deal with this,” Ellis said. “I don’t see anything on the horizon.”

Emergency state

On Thursday morning, the mayor declared a substance abuse, mental health and homelessness emergency. under provincial lawand extended the call for help to the federal government.

In an interview with CBC News, Ellis said the city’s emergency departments and hospitals are currently “at capacity.”

“When you have as many (overdoses) as we’ve had in the last 24 hours, it doesn’t seem like it can stop,” he said.

The city needs more mental health counseling, doctors, nurse practitioners and drug treatment centers, but “we don’t have any capital or facilities to turn to,” said Ellis, a Liberal MP from 2015 to 2021.

“It’s time for us to act or develop a plan, but it’s all three levels of government that will have to do it.”

WATCH | The mayor explains his statement:

Municipalities ‘not equipped’ to deal with overdose crisis, says mayor of Belleville, Ontario

Belleville Mayor Neil Ellis says municipalities don’t have the resources to handle overdose crises like the one hitting his eastern Ontario community, where 23 people have overdosed since Tuesday.

Less than an hour before that statement, a spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones sent CBC a statement highlighting the province’s $3.8 billion. Roadmap to Well-being mental health and addiction plan.

They said Belleville-specific investments include nearly $35 million for mental health and substance abuse agencies and nearly $2 million to pair health care workers with police during distress calls.

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