A mother’s tragedy launches a call to action on the opioid crisis

Dear editor,

Yes, it was my beautiful, talented, compassionate 31-year-old daughter Dayna Elizabeth Karle who passed away on September 19th of this year from an accidental drug overdose after being sober for the past nine months. I am sure many of you reading this knows someone, possibly a loved one or family member, who struggles with drug addiction. You may remember a young person you taught or coached that was full of promise and had a bright future – but then, like with Dayna – addiction changed their future. And they, like Dayna, could not get the help she needed in our community to overcome the vice-like grip of addiction. How many obituaries of sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters have you read or heard of in the last year alone? Shocking.
I know I cannot bring Dayna back, but I will do whatever I can to spare another family from the pain of feeling helpless, trying to get their loved one the help they need to overcome their addiction, and the grief we are forced to endure with Dayna’s passing.
Not knowing where to start, I pulled together a group of like-minded people (we call ourselves Team DEK) and we have been doing a lot of ground work over the past few weeks. We have met with a broad range of people that work in the fields of mental health and addiction, have talked to first responders, other advocacy groups, members of our City Council and the MPs and MPPs representing Thunder Bay. A consistent takeaway from these meetings is that they readily acknowledge the drug crisis in Thunder Bay and they are as frustrated as the rest of us trying to get the resources needed to make inroads to solving this situation.
To give you the sense of the magnitude of the drug crisis in Thunder Bay, take a deep breath and then review the following statistics:  
- Thunder Bay’s opioid overdose rate is over twice the national average
- As of July, our hospitals have seen 148 overdoses this year with 48 of them fatal
- Thunder Bay District Health Unit has issued public announcements in July and October warning that particularly bad batches of drugs were found to be circulating in our city
- Thunder Bay’s detox facility has only 22 detox beds, with 4 male recovery beds and 5 female recovery beds for a community of 110,000
- In 2018/2019, Balmoral (detox) Centre admitted 2,164 into the residential withdrawal management program, and was unable to accommodate 2,555 individuals in the same period due to capacity issues
At this point I want to make it clear that I nor Team DEK have any political party alliance, nor do we favour one party over another. We have and will continue to acknowledge and thank the politicians that have provided guidance and support. On the other hand, we will call out any politician and or party that we see as a roadblock to getting the critically needed mental health and addiction services for our community. Our view is that saving lives should not be a political issue. That being said, with the funding of health care services primarily managed at the provincial level, we in Ontario are currently at the mercy of Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservative Party. Premier Ford made an announcement way back at the beginning of the year for plans and significant funding to deal with mental health and addiction across Ontario – sadly there has been no further news or evidence of action. Also, we understand that a number of people, agencies and health care providers here in Thunder Bay worked long and hard to develop a proposal for the funding of a 40 bed addictions and mental health facility to be located here in Thunder Bay. This proposal was submitted to Michael Tibollo, Associate Minister of Health (Conservative Party) early in 2021 and since then, radio silence. We have tried to find out the status of the critically needed funding – but have not as yet been successful. I wonder how many people have died in our community while that proposal gathers dust on Michael Tibollo’s desk. My fear is that the Ford funding promise for mental health and addiction services for Ontario and well as Tibollo’s failure to move on our community’s funding proposal may well be empty campaign promises for next year’s provincial election. We would love to be proven wrong on both accounts – Premier Ford and Associate Minister Tibollo we would love to hear from you.
So, what’s next you ask. Team DEK is focused on doing something that will positively impact the drug crisis in Thunder Bay. People are volunteering to join us to fight the fight. It is now early days. Currently we are in the learning, researching and networking phase. This will give us a good foundation on which to build sound, specific action plans which will result in positive tangible outcomes. To get a sense of what we have been up to and see the overwhelming level of support we have, please check us out on Facebook (Carolyn Karle), Twitter (@tbaydemanddetox) and Instagram (@tbaydemandsdetox). The objective of this first (of a series I hope) letter to the Editor is to let you know we will be working hard for our community. If you are interested in helping out in any way, please contact me on Facebook and we will invite you to join Team DEK. For now, my ask of you is to get informed about the drug crisis in Thunder Bay, when ever possible talk to others about it to raise the profile and bring a broader sense of urgency to this literally life-threatening situation.
Together we can make a difference.

Carolyn Karle