Belleville declares state of emergency after 23 overdoses in 2 days
Published Thursday, February 8, 2024 4:49PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 8, 2024 5:04PM EST
Belleville has declared a state of emergency after responding to 23 suspected drug overdoses (ODs) in the span of less than two days.
Late Tuesday afternoon, police in the city of 55,000 warned residents and visitors to exercise caution and avoid the downtown core after emergency personnel were called to 13 overdose incidents in just two hours.
A city spokesperson confirmed to CP24.com on Thursday that Belleville police and fire services responded to a total of 23 calls for ODs between 2 p.m. on Tuesday and 8:43 a.m. today in the eastern Ontario city. No deaths have been reported.
“The past two days have exemplified just how critical the addiction, mental health and homelessness crisis has become in our community,” Belleville Mayor Neil Ellis said in a Feb. 8 news release.
Ellis declared the state of emergency on behalf of city council on Thursday morning.
An emergency declaration is a provision under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act that can be used by municipalities to request support from the provincial and federal government. The Act defines an emergency as a situation or an impending situation that constitutes a danger of major proportions that may result in serious harm to persons or substantial damage to property and that is caused by the forces of nature, a disease or other health risk, an accident or an act whether intentional or otherwise.
The city said that the key reason for resorting to this measure is the impact this cluster of overdoses had on its emergency services. In a release, it said that at one point emergency personnel saw nine overdose patients in just one call.
“We, as a City, know that we are at the point where doing our best doesn’t cut it anymore. Our emergency services, health care system and municipal resources are being stretched to the very limits and we are close to a breaking point,” Ellis said in a release.
“We need serious action and support from senior level government to deal with this crisis and until we begin to see meaningful discussions on how to address the matter, I fear nothing will change. That is why we are calling on the provincial and federal government for support.”
Ellis also urged local municipal partners who are facing the same challenges to follow suit.
Belleville Police Chief Mike Callaghan said that the cluster of OD calls seen earlier this week “resulted in enormous pressure on our emergency services as a whole,” adding that the drug crisis is an issue that will “only continue to grow in our community and nation-wide.”
Hastings-Quinte Paramedic Services’ Chief of Paramedics, Carl Bowker, added that this week’s unexpected surge in call volume “briefly overwhelmed responding paramedics, police and fire and there were road closures to ensure ambulance and fire could respond unimpeded.”
He likened what happened over the last two days to what Belleville saw in November 2023 when emergency responders were called to 90 suspected overdoses in the span of one week, one of which was fatal. That spate of ODs, which he attributed to fentanyl being laced with naloxone-resistant Gamma-hydroxybutyrate, prompted city officials to declare a “community crisis.”
Bowker told CP24.com that there were a couple of other opioid-related calls on Tuesday evening and another on Wednesday morning, however he said that it was "nothing like the volume that was experienced during that short time period” on Tuesday afternoon.
Several of the suspected overdoses happened at a drop-in centre called the Bridge Integrated Care Hub, a drop-in program at Bridge Street United Church.
"I saw five go down like boom, boom, boom, boom," said an unhoused man named Steve.
He said that he arrived at Bridge Street United Church where the John Howard Society operates a program for people experiencing homelessness and saw people collapsing to the ground.
"Between when they inhaled and when they went down, I put a high-end of five minutes," Steve told CTV National News.
Todd Buchanan, of Peer Support South East Ontario, works with people struggling with addiction in Belleville and called Tuesday's events "devastating."
"It could have been a lot worse," he said, adding he’s grateful that no one died.
"When an event like this happens in a community, my hope would be people take notice and not judge what happened but find ways so it doesn't happen again."
Buchanan said that he wants to see new approaches taken by all levels of government to address this crisis, adding that the current approach is clearly not working.
"(A solution) comes from the government's willingness to look outside the box and try and find solutions that may seem on the surface perhaps controversial," he said.
Steve, meanwhile, said that the solutions to this crisis are too reactionary and not enough is being done to prevent people from being injured and even killed by a drug overdose.
"Not enough, not even touching it," he said.
"They need to get ahead of it, because I'm telling you, these people didn't come here that way."
Sheila Braidek, the Bridge Integrated Care Hub’s co-chair, agreed.
“We are going to need the help of all levels of government, all health and social services and the community at large to ensure we can realize our collective goal of a truly integrated hub of care in an appropriate facility,” Braidek, who is also the executive director of Belleville Quinte West Community Health Centre, said in a statement provided to CP24.com.
“The ongoing toxic drug crisis is a big part of why an integrated response is desperately needed.”
With files from CTV National News.