Today, Thursday, August 31, is International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD), the world’s largest annual campaign to end overdose deaths and honour without stigma those who have died from overdose. The IOAD 2023 theme is “Recognizing those people who go unseen.” 

In the Niagara region alone, where the regional government declared a state of emergency for homelessness, mental health, and opioid addiction, Emergency Medical Services responded to 402 suspected opioid overdoses from January to July 2023. From January to September 2022, approximately 10 people died, and approximately 9 people were hospitalized per month due to opioid-related causes throughout the region. 

In Niagara, vulnerable populations can receive non-judgmental and low-barrier healthcare services from Regional Essential Access to Connected Healthcare (REACH) Niagara. REACH takes a harm reduction approach to care by prioritizing the needs and goals of individuals at high risk for overdose and death. This includes providing mental health supports, addressing addiction concerns, and providing the tools to use substances safely. REACH Niagara is responsible for operating Niagara’s first safer supply program that provides community members with prescriptions for regulated pharmaceuticals as an alternative to unregulated and potentially life-threatening street drugs. Through wrap-around services, this program is already seeing life-changing outcomes where clients have gotten stable and, as a result, have been able to focus on other areas of their lives, such as employment, housing, and reconnecting with their support system. 

“Safer supply is a harm reduction-based model of care that aims to prevent overdose-related deaths and increase the overall well-being of individuals in the program,” says Dr. Karim Ali, REACH Niagara’s Medical Director of Safer Supply. “As a newer program, we are starting to see positive results and look forward to continue building on these outcomes. We know the need is in our community, and we are one part of the puzzle in addressing the mental health and addictions crisis Niagara is experiencing.”

Safer Supply is one aspect of care – REACH also has a fully equipped mobile health van where we meet people where they are at to provide primary care, 1:1 mental health counselling, and real-time system navigation to help our community access housing, connection to financial supports to be able to afford food, and much more. 

“Goals can look different from person to person. That’s why it’s important to meet people where they are at and to prioritize building trusting relationships between the client and our team, ” says REACH Niagara Executive Director Carolyn Dyer. “When someone is ready to make a change, we want to ensure they have a supportive and knowledgeable healthcare provider to turn to. We are often the only option of healthcare for many members of our community where sadly the alternative is the Emergency Department”.

Supporting REACH Niagara 

If you are a family physician wanting to make a difference in your community by working with REACH, please contact Carolyn Dyer: .

If you are a community member, you can make an impact in a number of ways: 

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