In the past five years, there’s been a 25 per cent increase in calls for EMS in Dryden.
Since 2019, there has been a 60 per cent increase in mental health and addiction-related calls.
Dryden had one-third of all overdoses reported in the Kenora district last year despite having one-tenth of the region’s population.
Opioid-related emergency department visits have also dramatically increased since 2015 in the Northwestern Health Unit area.
Meanwhile, other dangerously addictive substances, such as crystal meth, continue to flow into Dryden.
It’s all putting a strain on the resources that are available, said Doug Palson, the city’s police chief.
Not only does the city lack a shelter, it doesn’t have a permanent warming or a cooling space. There is also no safe consumption site or detox centre.
People are in the streets at all hours, whether it be 30 C in the summer or -30 C in the winter, Palson said.
Sometimes, people are too intoxicated to take care of themselves and have nowhere to go.
“The majority of these issues are not crime issues,” he said. “They’re not even something that police should be directly involved in, unless there’s a safety issue.”
But police are the only social services response available 24/7, so a lot falls to them, he said.
“We respond as best we can, but … it’s a bit frustrating.”
It’s also taking a toll on front-line health workers.
Marcel Penner is the director of mental health and addiction services with the Dryden Regional Health Centre.
He said the number of referrals to mental health programming has remained consistent over the years, but there are more people coming to the hospital in crisis.
“The pressure is very high,” he said.
It’s heightened, he said, because the hospital’s mobile crisis team is understaffed and unable to run on a 24/7 basis, like it’s funded to do.
“It’s a matter of recruitment,” he said.
This story in Dryden is one that Sarah Kennell says she hears all the time.
She’s the national director of public policy with the Canadian Mental Health Association, a national organization that provides advocacy, programs and resources to support mental health.
It’s a story that’s being experienced in small towns and cities right across the country, she said.
Many front-line service providers are burnt out, anxious and depressed. Many are now leaving the profession, Kennell said.
Meanwhile, wait lists for supportive housing and treatment centres grow. Opioid and other drug overdoses and deaths continue to climb across the country.
And despite the attention briefly given to mental health, addiction and homelessness during this past federal election, little regard was paid to the particular problems facing rural and remote communities, Kennell said.
But she said the solutions are well known.
They include investing in supportive, affordable housing; opening treatment centres in smaller communities; training specialized health-care workers and sending them to rural areas; expanding Indigenous-led mental health programming; and ensuring access to a safe supply of drugs and supervised injection sites.
“There’s no doubt, we know what the solutions are,” Kennell said. “It does come down to political will and resources.”
Dryden’s mayor says the political will is there, but the resources aren’t.
“We see media releases by the governments saying we’re going to spend X number of billion dollars over the next so many years on increasing mental health support,” said Mayor Greg Wilson.
“I don’t feel like a lot of that money has come through the system effectively.”
In an emailed statement, the Ontario government said it has invested $525 million in new funding since 2019, and has promised to invest $3.8 billion in mental health and addiction services and supports over 10 years.
The statement also said the government has tasked Ontario’s Mental Health and Addictions Centre of Excellence, a government agency created in 2020, with implementing its plan to modernize the province’s mental health and addictions system, including the development of performance metrics.
Source: CBC News