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One day, four overdose deaths: Ontario city struggles as opioid crisis marches on – The Globe and Mail

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Kevin Davis, the mayor of Brantford, Ont., is photographed during an interview at Brantford city hall on Jan 18 2019. Mayor Davis had to pause to get control of his emotions when asked about the impact of the opioid crisis on his city.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

One was a burger-joint chef who loved to skateboard when he was growing up. One was a big truck driver with striking blue eyes. Another was the father of four kids. Another was famous for his devotion to his dog, Rocco.

These four men all died of drug overdoses on a grey Friday this month in Brantford, the small city in Southwestern Ontario where Wayne Gretzky was raised. It is the most overdose deaths the city has had in one day, the equivalent – when compared to the size of its population – to 120 deaths in one day in Toronto.

Like other Ontario cities that have seen overdose rates rise as the opioid crisis moves from west to east across the country, Brantford is struggling with the loss. Mayor Kevin Davis had to pause to get control of his emotions when asked about the impact on his city. “It’s tragic, it’s devastating,” he said. “You feel almost a sense of hopelessness.” It is easy to “categorize and stigmatize” drug users, he said, but “these are real people.”

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Just a year ago, the community of 100,000 seemed to be making some modest progress in its fight to prevent drug overdoses. A new addiction-medicine clinic had just opened up. Authorities were implementing a new drug strategy that aimed to spread the word about the dangers of drug use and get the overdose-reversing drug naloxone onto the streets.

But the area had 35 fatal overdoses last year, preliminary figures show. That is up from 22 in 2018 and 25 in 2017. Visits to the hospital emergency department for overdoses were also up in 2019, though the number of overdoses that emergency services were called to was down slightly. Now this – four deaths in a single day.

The deaths are part of a wave of overdoses that hit the community at the start of the new decade. A special alert from the Brant County Health Unit said that, including the four fatal ones, there were 17 in the first 12 days of January, more than in an average full month in 2019.

Other Ontario cities are also seeing higher numbers as the overdose epidemic that crested first in British Columbia and Alberta rolls through Canada’s most populous province. Public Health Ontario reports that 435 people died from overdoses in the first quarter of last year, an increase of 42 per cent from the same period in 2018.

“It’s been a bad couple of months,” said Stephanie Rochon, co-ordinator of Brantford’s addiction medicine clinic. She said testing of patients is showing stronger strains of fentanyl, as well as the even more potent carfentanil and other fentanyl analogs. Users often don’t know what drugs they are using, she said, putting them at high risk of getting a bad dose.

The four men in Brantford died on Friday, Jan. 10. The youngest was 26, the oldest 38. Police aren’t saying what drugs they may have used or where and how they died, pending the results of post mortems and further investigation. But Justine Radcliffe, a cousin of one of the men, Grant York, said she saw authorities removing two bodies from a house next to her place on Murray Street, a few minutes from the city core.

Ms. Radcliffe said her cousin’s wasn’t one of them. He died at home, she said. She called him a quiet person who cooked at the Works Gourmet Burger Bistro. The restaurant closed its doors for that evening, saying on Facebook that it had just received “some devastating news.”

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Staff at the head shop next door, Crazy Bill’s, said Mr. York was a “sweet guy” who often came in for cigarettes or energy drinks. To help prevent more deaths, they have given away dozens of drug-testing kits since the overdoses this month.

A death notice called Mr. York an “amazing soul” whose “humour, laughter, loyalty, love for life and impact on others will be missed.” His mother, Jennifer York, posted on a local news social-media page that “he was not an addict, purely recreational.” She warned others to know their neighbours and learn to recognize drug houses, with lots of people coming and going and expensive vehicles outside. “Watch your surroundings. I can not stress this enough!” she said.

Two of the other men, Kevin Waring and Richie Britton, were good friends. Mr. Waring was a long-haul trucker. His Facebook feed includes pictures of a gleaming white transport truck and a sign that reads, “Beer is the perfection of water.” His nickname was Bundy, after the gargantuan professional wrestler King Kong Bundy.

His pal, Mr. Britton, liked soccer and played pool in a league that had weekly games at local bars. His “fur baby,” Rocco, a boxer, was like family to him, friends said.

One friend, Cody Henry, organized drinks at a downtown pub to mark the passing of the two men. He said they were “the type of guys who, if they were your friends, would do anything for you. There should have been more people in the world like them.” Mr. Britton was always helping friends move. Mr. Waring was supposed to give Mr. Henry some tips on driving a truck for a living the day that he died.

Mr. Henry’s girlfriend, Kristen Ferguson, said Mr. Britton would hang out with her when Mr. Henry was away on motorcycle trips. The two would talk and watch videos on YouTube. “I lost a brother” when he died, she said, wiping away tears as she stood outside the pub.

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The fourth man, Cody Annis, was remembered in his death notice as the “beloved dad of Aliyah, Shyvon, James ‘Devon’ and Zayden.” The notice said, “Cody was happiest when he was outdoors and in nature, fishing pole in hand and kids beside him.”

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At least five B.C. children died from influenza last month, as mortalities spike – Energeticcity.ca

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VICTORIA — At least five children died last month in British Columbia from influenza as a rise of early season respiratory illnesses added strain to the beleaguered health-care system.

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The figure marks a departure from the average of two to three annual flu deaths among children in the province between 2015 and 2019, data from the BC Coroners Service shows.

“Public health is monitoring the situation closely and is reminding people of the steps they can take to protect themselves, their children and their loved ones against the flu,” the B.C. Centre for Disease Control said in a statement.

“It is important to know that death associated with influenza in previously healthy children continues to be rare.”

The centre said it is aware of a sixth reported flu death among children and youth under 19, but it was not immediately clear why the sixth wasn’t included in the coroners’ figures. 

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the children who died included one who was younger than five years old, three who were between five and nine, and two adolescents who were between 15 and 19.

“Early findings indicate some of the children experienced secondary bacterial infections contributing to severe illness, which can be a complication of influenza,” Henry said in a statement Thursday.

The deaths in British Columbia suggest figures could tick up across the country given the common challenges facing health systems this respiratory season. Alberta has also recorded the deaths of two children with influenza so far this season.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, an average of five to six kids died per flu season across Canada, data collected from 12 hospitals across the country shows. 

The national data was collected between 2010 and 2019 by IMPACT, a national surveillance network administered by the Canadian Paediatric Association. It was included in a research paper published in March in “The Lancet Regional Health — Americas” journal that also found no deaths from the flu among children in either 2020 or 2021. 

No one from either IMPACT or the B.C. Centre for Disease Control was immediately available for an interview.

On Monday, Henry said that after two years of low flu rates, mostly due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the province is seeing a “dramatic increase” in illness and it arrived sooner than normal. 

She urged parents to get their children vaccinated against the flu. 

On Thursday, British Columbia’s Health Ministry announced a “blitz” of walk-in flu clinics that will open across the province Friday through Sunday. Flu vaccines are free to all kids aged six months and older in B.C.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control said getting the shot is particularly important for those at risk of severe outcomes, including those with chronic medical conditions like heart, lung, kidney or liver disorders and diseases, those with conditions that cause difficulty breathing or swallowing, those who need to take Aspirin for long periods of time and those who are very obese. 

The BC Coroners Service said its data is preliminary and subject to change while investigations are completed.

The cases include those where influenza was identified as an immediate, pre-existing or underlying cause of death, or as a significant condition. 

Henry said updates on pediatric influenza-related deaths will be posted weekly as part of the respiratory surveillance summaries on the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2022.

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At least five B.C. children died from influenza last month, as mortalities spike

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At least five children died last month in British Columbia from influenza as a rise of early season respiratory illnesses added strain to the beleaguered healthcare system.

The figure marks a departure from the average of two to three annual flu deaths among children in the province between 2015 and 2019, data from the BC Coroners Service shows.

“Public health is monitoring the situation closely and is reminding people of the steps they can take to protect themselves, their children and their loved ones against the flu,” the B.C. Centre for Disease Control said in a statement.

“It is important to know that death associated with influenza in previously healthy children continues to be rare.”

Genius Dog 336 x 280 - Animated

The centre said it is aware of a sixth reported flu death among children and youth under 19, but it was not immediately clear why the sixth wasn’t included in the coroners’ figures.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the children who died included one who was younger than five years old, three who were between five and nine, and two adolescents who were between 15 and 19.

“Early findings indicate some of the children experienced secondary bacterial infections contributing to severe illness, which can be a complication of influenza,” Henry said in a statement Thursday.

The deaths in British Columbia suggest figures could tick up across the country given the common challenges facing health systems this respiratory season. Alberta has also recorded the deaths of two children with influenza so far this season.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, an average of five to six kids died per flu season across Canada, data collected from 12 hospitals across the country shows.

The national data was collected between 2010 and 2019 by IMPACT, a national surveillance network administered by the Canadian Paediatric Association. It was included in a research paper published in March in “The Lancet Regional Health — Americas” journal that also found no deaths from the flu among children in either 2020 or 2021.

No one from either IMPACT or the B.C. Centre for Disease Control was immediately available for an interview.

On Monday, Henry said that after two years of low flu rates, mostly due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the province is seeing a “dramatic increase” in illness and it arrived sooner than normal.

She urged parents to get their children vaccinated against the flu.

On Thursday, British Columbia’s Health Ministry announced a “blitz” of walk-in flu clinics that will open across the province Friday through Sunday. Flu vaccines are free to all kids aged six months and older in B.C.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control said getting the shot is particularly important for those at risk of severe outcomes, including those with chronic medical conditions like heart, lung, kidney or liver disorders and diseases, those with conditions that cause difficulty breathing or swallowing, those who need to take Aspirin for long periods of time and those who are very obese.

The BC Coroners Service said its data is preliminary and subject to change while investigations are completed.

The cases include those where influenza was identified as an immediate, pre-existing or underlying cause of death, or as a significant condition.

Henry said updates on pediatric influenza-related deaths will be posted weekly as part of the respiratory surveillance summaries on the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2022.

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Cough and cold medication shortage to end next year, pharmacists association says

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Children’s Tylenol returning slowly to retail outlets in town

Parents with sick kids might be able to take a break from crushing adult Tylenol and mixing it with apple sauce if they hurry quickly to a local pharmacy.

Children’s Tylenol (acetaminophen) in liquid form began arriving at retail outlets in late November, but in such limited quantities that pharmacists are keeping them behind the counter and limiting them to one bottle per customer.

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A Shopper’s Drug Mart pharmacist The Daily Press spoke with on Tuesday wouldn’t say how much they’d received but advised to hurry while quantities last. A Rexall pharmacist is only selling children’s Tylenol to parents with sick kids, not to those just preparing for a rainy day.

Adam Chappell, owner and pharmacist at Parma Right in The 101 Mall, told The Daily Press he was expecting nine retail-sized bottles of children’s Tylenol last Wednesday, which he also planned to keep behind the counter and limit to one bottle per customer.

He predicts that more will become available, but that there will be extended shortages in the short term. Pharmacies are being allocated small amounts by the manufacturers, to spread out supply.

The shortage makes it difficult for parents to control fevers in their children, leading to more doctor visits, he said.

“We had more public health measures in place with COVID, so we had 1½ to two years where we really didn’t see much influenza or common cold,” said Chappell, whose independent pharmacy opened in November.

“So now we’re seeing everything all at once because we’re now socializing more. It’s that time of year, so we’re starting to see more influenza, cough and colds and COVID is still circulating. I think it’s a combination of higher use and some lingering logistical issues.”

Shelves sit half empty in the adult cough and cold section at the Shopper’s Drug Mart at 227 Algonquin Blvd. E. on Tuesday. The shortage is expected to end between January and March of 2023, said Jen Belcher with the Pharmacists Association of Ontario. The timing would coincide with the end of the cold and flu season.NICOLE STOFFMAN/The Daily Press
Shelves sit half empty in the adult cough and cold section at the Shopper’s Drug Mart at 227 Algonquin Blvd. E. on Tuesday. The shortage is expected to end between January and March of 2023, said Jen Belcher with the Pharmacists Association of Ontario. The timing would coincide with the end of the cold and flu season.NICOLE STOFFMAN/The Daily Press jpg, TD

A children’s drug shortage began in the spring and worsened in the summer when an early onset of flu and respiratory syncytial virus was made worse by COVID-19, which presents as a cold. Parents began stocking up.

When local manufacturers could not keep up with demand, Health Canada arranged to import supply from the United States and Australia, whose first shipment in early November went straight to hospitals, in part because the labels were not bilingual, Postmedia reported.

Health Canada has authorized 500,000 bottles of imported children’s acetaminophen for retail to arrive in December, and domestic supply is starting to recover, Jen Belcher with the Ontario Pharmacists Association told The Daily Press in a telephone interview.

“The demand really hasn’t abated, and manufacturing really hasn’t been able to keep up from a straight capacity standpoint, rather than a supply interruption with a lack of ingredients,” she said, when asked to respond to a claim by the German pharmacist’s association.

That organization asserts pandemic lockdowns in China are blocking exports of the raw ingredients used for medications, Postmedia reported Nov. 16.

If lockdowns in China continue, however, she conceded it could interrupt the ingredient supply in the long-term.  There is also a global reliance on India for the raw ingredients used in over-the-counter medication.

Canadian manufacturers can tap various international suppliers if approved by Health Canada, Belcher said.

Children’s Advil (ibuprofen), an anti-inflammatory, continues to be in short supply in pharmacies, but available in hospital. Neither Belcher nor Chappell has heard reports of Health Canada planning to import it for retail outlets.

Adult Tylenol and Advil remain plentiful.

Chappell recommends that parents speak to their pharmacist to determine a dosage of adult pills based on the child’s weight and symptoms. They can be crushed and added to yogurt, apple sauce or chocolate syrup.

If parents can wait a few days for the package to arrive, they can order a supply for their child from a compounding pharmacist, who is qualified to make custom medications including liquid formulations. There are several compounding pharmacists in Sudbury, but none in Timmins.

Adults in Timmins who have come down with a cold or flu lately may also have been surprised to see empty shelves in the adult cough and cold section of their local pharmacy.

“When it comes to cough and cold medication for both adults and children, we’re not seeing an imported supply of those. Those are short and have been for quite some time due to this high level of demand, small amounts have been trickling through the supply chain but it hasn’t been enough to keep up with demand,” said Belcher.

She expects the adult cough and cold medication shortage to end sometime between January and March, 2023, just in time for the end of flu season.

A quick check of the adult cough and cold section of four downtown pharmacies on Tuesday showed partially empty shelves, but there was still a variety of medication to choose from.

Belcher said pharmacists have lots of experience finding alternatives for patients, if necessary.

“While the over-the-counter medications in short supply are the most visible representation of the challenges to our supply chain, pharmacy teams have been managing very high levels of drug shortages, some critical, where there are really few or no alternative options,” she said, adding that up to 20 per cent of the team’s day is spent managing shortages.

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