Substance abuse team back to the grind

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

With opioids and overdose deaths on the rise, the Substance Abuse Prevention Team (SAPT) is back to the planning table, holding meetings and upping their awareness campaigns. 

Hugh Dennis, community volunteer, and Joan MacLean, administrator, said the goal is to raise awareness and increase their partners by having meetings, events and partnerships. 

Prior to pandemic gathering restrictions, campaigns included gatherings at Point Park where information pamphlets were handed out to students and parents. 

Now they are hoping to get back on track, to raise awareness and gather support.

“We have a much greater problem today than what we did 10 years ago, with hard drugs, heroin, methamphetamine, fentanyl, cocaine and drugs of that nature,” Dennis said.

When Dennis retired from the OPP, he was hired as the Substance Abuse Prevention Team leader and continued on working for the substance abuse team doing programming. 

That included bringing in young people from as far away as Winnipeg and Thunder Bay and locals to speak to students and parents about the way that people become addicts and alcoholics, and what can be done to help them and increase preventative measures. 

“Very few of us knew what the treatment for methamphetamine and alcoholism looks like. These people were recovered addicts and alcoholics, and they spoke and the knowledge that went up in the community was huge,” Dennis said. 

MacLean said the prevention team is not a standalone group. There are more than 15 community partners and organizations such as Treaty 3 Police, Fort Frances Tribal Health Services, OPP, Victim Services, Northwestern Health Unit, Fort Frances Mayor, EMS, the Catholic School Board, Crown Prosecutor, Assistant Crown Prosecutor, Shoppers Drug Mart Pharmacy and EMS. 

“They can help us pass on our message, that substance abuse is something that is detrimental to our community,” MacLean said. “We want to have a safe community and the importing of drugs is not something that makes our community safe.”

The team will also be promoting “Lifeguard,” an application that could be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play. The digital app gets activated when someone is taking drugs. After 50 seconds, the application will sound an alarm. If the individual does not hit the button to stop the alarm, the alarm gets louder. After 75 seconds, a text-to-voice call will go to 911, altering of a potential overdose. 

It’s a tool they will be promoting more, MacLean said, adding that they laminated the instructions on how to use the app and put it in library washrooms, along with needle disposal. 

Another aspect the team is hoping to tackle is the misconception around addiction reasons. MacLean said people from all walks of life get addicted to opioids, including housewives and soccer dads.

“Some people are addicted to opioids because they got injured in some way,” MacLean said. “The doctor just automatically then puts them on Oxycodone and they’re addicted. And they are going to get help because they don’t know how to get out of it.”

Dennis also said they are aiming to reduce the knowledge gap regarding alcoholism and addiction. This could be done by having recovered drug addicts or alcoholics participate in meetings and providing ideas on how to improve the situation in the region.

If you have ideas, you can run them by MacLean or Dennis. You can contact MacLean at the Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre 807-274-9879 Ext. 1610 or Dennis at 807-275-7224.

SAPT has been around for over 20 years since it was started by the provincial government in specific locations. 

“The Rainy River District was one of the fortunate locations that got funding from the provincial government,” Dennis said. “As a result of that, this area hired an abuse coordinator. The job of the coordinator was to go out into the community and do what the committee asked of her or him and present programs to the schools, to the elderly and to parents.”

However, in 2013, the government cut the funding for the team, leaving them to go to different communities in the Rainy River District. Now, SAPT operates under the Safe Communities umbrella. 

“We were very grateful for the help,” Dennis said. “Now we are in a different phase and coming back to life. We are very happy and excited to do that. We have a facility here that can accommodate people for meetings, and Joan [MacLean] is extremely dedicated and worked very hard at the administration of the SAPT.”