By David Briggs,
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath stopped in North Bay this morning to discuss the rising death count stemming from drug overdoses, her objections to the Conservatives’ handling of the problem, and how she would begin remedying the issue.
She was joined by local NDP candidate Erika Lougheed at 261 Main St. West_that little triangular park across from the CIBC on Fraser St.,for a brief speech just after 9:30.
Her downtown North Bay stop is part of a larger northern tour this week, with the leader of the opposition planning stops in Sudbury and Sault St. Marie before heading back to Queen’s Park.
“The overdose crisis in North Bay and throughout Ontario is tearing families apart,” Horwath said.
“Parents are being forced to hold funerals for their sons and daughters, people who should have had so much life ahead of them.
And the whole community is being touched by the effects of this crisis.”
The province requires “an urgent need for investment in mental health and addictions,” Lougheed emphasized.
A “lack of overdose prevention sites” is not helping the problem, nor is “bad public policy” enacted and upheld by the provincial Conservatives, Lougheed said.
She provided a grim statistic. By August, the region had surpassed the amount of overdose deaths from last year, and more will come.
“A tragic milestone” ignored by the Conservatives, Lougheed said, without even “a tweet” on Twitter to acknowledge the area’s issues.
Horwath explained how the Conservatives “cut $330 million from mental health and addictions” in 2018, “then limited the number of overdose prevention sites in Ontario.”
She noted funding for these services was already scant, and additional cuts extended the waitlist for services.
“There are long waits for residential treatment in North Bay,”
Horwath said, noting that on average “the wait for mental health treatment is now over a year, 370 days.”
Nikki Mattinas knows firsthand waiting this long destroys lives.
Mattinas was a drug addict who is now “two years living clean.”
She spoke at this morning’s event, offering a personal glimpse into what can often become an abstract issue based on dollars and statistics for those who have not lived with addiction.
“I went through the hardship of suffering with addiction,” she said, a problem plaguing her “whole life.”
In 2018, “I was here in North Bay, homeless, and I was addicted to intravenous drugs on the streets.”
Surviving an overdose, Mattinas decided “it was time for me to get clean.”
And so she waited. Her decision to clean herself up came in 2019.
After seeking services, she was placed on a waitlist “to get access to a bed in a treatment centre.”
That bed “wasn’t even in the community, I had to go down south,” she said, which added strain to the process.
“It was really hard on my family.”
“There needs to be more accessible services in the North Bay community,” she said, adding that the wait times literally can kill, “I’ve lost ten friends due to overdose.”
“We need to improve these services,” Mattinas concluded, “so that more of my friends are not dying on the streets alone.”
Horwath agreed. “Let’s invest instead of cutting,” she said.
“Let’s make sure treatment is available to folks as soon as they’re ready, instead of leaving them to face a long, dangerous wait. And let’s build and fund overdose prevention sites, instead of capping and restricting this lifesaving service.”
Both Horwath and Lougheed say the area is facing this issue alone, with little help from the province.
“The Ford government hasn’t been here for Nipissing,” Lougheed said. “And people are paying the price for that.”
“It’s time for a government that will make sure Northern Ontario and Nipissing finally get our fair share.”
David Briggs, is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the BAYTODAY.CA. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.