United Way Simcoe Muskoka (UWSM) is hoping to open the discussion on the opioid crisis locally.
The organization will host a film screening and panel discussion in Huntsville on National Overdose Awareness Day. The documentary, 2019’s Flood: The Overdose Epidemic in Canada, starts Aug. 31 at 7:00 p.m. at the Algonquin Theatre. It’s followed by a panel with filmmaker Adam D’Addario, local first responders, advocates, and people whose lives have been personally affected by opioids.
“Clearly, the approach we’re taking isn’t working, and this is impacting everyone,” says Brian Shelley, Chief Executive and Philanthropy Officer at UWSM. “It isn’t just happening in back alleys, it’s happening in middle-class households. It’s happening in high school students with professional parents. It’s happening with professional adults themselves.”
According to Shelley, the film tells human stories of the opioid crisis, and the panel includes a mother who lost a child to opioid addiction and has since become an advocate for youth mental health and addictions.
While he doesn’t recommend young children be brought to the event, Shelley says that as a parent himself, it’s important for teens and young adults to understand the reality of the situation.
“I know that I can put my kids into every extracurricular activity, help them with their homework, read to them at night,” says Shelley. “I can do everything and my wife can do everything we can do to set our kids on the right path and they still might fall down the pathway of addiction.”
According to the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, opioid-related emergency department visits are lower this year than the same timeframe in 2021, but are still well above pre-COVID-19 levels.
Shelley notes that police perspectives on harm reduction strategies, such as safe injection sites and needle exchange or drop-off programs, have “shifted dramatically” over the last decade, recounting a recent conversation with a police official who did not initially support harm reduction strategies. “He just wants his officers to stop finding people dead,” Shelley says.
According to Shelley, the goal of the event is to further reduce the stigma around opioid addiction, and open people to solutions moving forward.
“Addiction is an illness, and so I want to make sure our community creates a safety net, so that if one of my kids ever falls down the track of addiction and overdose, that there are systems in place to support them, so they can work towards recovery and rehabilitation.”
The event is free to attend, but tickets must be reserved in advance through the Algonquin Theatre’s website.