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Absence of drug poisoning data in rural Wellington County a barrier to decisions, says drug strategy manager

A system tracking real-time information in Guelph has been delayed in its roll out to the county

WELLINGTON COUNTY – Data around fatal and non-fatal drug poisoning in Wellington County is not tracked as closely as it is in Guelph, which is creating a barrier to decision-making. 

Adrienne Crowder, Wellington Guelph Drug Strategy (WGDS) manager, explained data around drug poisonings, considered a more accurate term than 'drug overdoses,' is tracked through WDG Public Health’s FAST system in Guelph.

The FAST system collects real-time information on substance related poisonings and incidents to track trends and patterns in the city. 

For example, Crowder said this means if there have been several deaths related to drug poisoning around the same area and time, an alert can be issued warning of a toxic supply in the community.

This system is not in place in Wellington County, which Crowder said makes it difficult to issue similar warnings in Wellington County and drive decision making in all aspects related to it.

“Without accurate data, there is no information about the incidence, prevalence and demographics related to drug poisoning,” Crowder said. “This information is needed by the health system, local politicians, social services, police and others so they can discern what is actually happening in the county.”

It’s not the fault of WDG Public Health, who Crowder said were working on bringing the system to Wellington County.

However, a global pandemic meant public health had to redeploy a majority of staff to focus on pandemic-related concerns.

Danny Williamson, WDG Public Health spokesperson, confirmed via email work on moving this system to Wellington County has slowed due to the pandemic but they do monitor hospital visits related to drug poisoning. 

Data isn’t available for 2021 as of yet but data from Crowder provided by Guelph-Wellington Paramedic Service showed in Wellington County there were 70 EMS transports for suspected drug poisonings in 2020.

Crowder mentioned this data is slightly imprecise and doesn’t provide as clear of a picture as is the case in Guelph. 

Crowder said she understands the reason for the delay but finds it’s hard to get issues around addiction on the priority list often due to the stigma around those with substance use problems.

She said in an email people who experience addiction are often seen as choosing to have a problem rather than experiencing a physiological dependence brought on by life challenges. 

“The blame the victim attitude that is often prevalent in our culture takes away the political will to address the problem,” Crowder said. “When addiction and substance use dependence are viewed as health issues and treated as health issues that require support and/or treatment, this change in attitude allows the issue to be managed and addressed rather than ignored, judged or criminalized.”