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Vigil remembers those lost to substance use disorders (7 photos)

Eighteen new names were added to the Memorial Wall in advance of Tuesday's event

Another 18 names were added to the Memorial Wall at the Civic Centre prior to a candlelight vigil held on Tuesday, just days after the Office of the Chief Coroner shows another increase in the death rate for the region.

A total of 67 names are now permanently marked on the community’s Memorial Wall, each one representing a person who died from substance use disorders, says SOYA founder Connie Raynor-Elliott.

That number is just a fraction of those who died or are suspected to have died from opioid toxicity in the area.

Raynor-Elliott told SooToday she knows of another three fatal overdoses that occurred in Sault Ste. Marie just a few nights ago.

Tuesday’s candlelight vigil was the most recent opportunity for loved ones to pay their respects and for the community to support each other through the most difficult of times.

High winds prevented candles from being lit for the event, so some of the 50-plus people in attendance used the flashlight on their cell phones instead.

The SOYA event was the first for Matthew Shoemaker to attend as mayor of the city.

In his remarks, Shoemaker said the community faces substantial mental health and addictions challenges.

”Obviously, our city does not have all the supports it needs to properly serve and support our community and I can tell you that the city will not relent in its pursuit of those desperately needed services,” he told the crowd. ”We need additional resources and the support of both the Provincial and Federal governments to meet many of the challenges we are facing, and I will vigorously advocate for these resources.”

Speaking to SooToday immediately after the event, Shoemaker said he was encouraged by recent news that an eight-bed mental health and addictions treatment facility for youth is planned to open soon in the city.

“We need that, but we need the Residential Withdrawal facility open, the supervised consumption site and the return of the day treatment program and more,” said Shoemaker. “I am sure once we have all of those things, we will see what else our community is missing and we will focus on that as the next step. Any services we can get is a positive.”

Raynor-Elliott also told SooToday the news of youth treatment centre is welcome.

“I actually have nine parents with children between the ages of 12 and 15 — there’s no help for them. They have to put them into mental health or we send them down south. This is amazing, I am so glad this is happening,” she said.

Shoemaker has already expressed his support of for the return of Concurrent Disorders Intensive Day Treatment program, which was being offered at Sault Area Hospital until last summer.

“The Day Treatment Services are the number one priority for SOYA and therefore the number one priority that I am pursuing,” said Shoemaker. “I have a commitment to pursue a supervised consumption site in town and there will be a motion on the agenda for Dec. 11 concerning the first steps toward getting one.”

“It’s going to take a lot of different services to tackle the problem in an effective way. Each time we can get an additional service or provide an additional service or work toward that goal, we are making an impact,” he added.

The most recent opioid toxicity mortality data from the Office of the Chief Coroner shows Algoma experienced an increase from 42 deaths per 100,000 in July 2020 to June 2021 to 51 deaths over July 2021 to June 2022. That’s more than twice the provincial average of 20 deaths per 100,000 and the third poorest showing in the province.

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Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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