Belleville declares overdose emergency

Mar 12, 2024

On February 8, Belleville’s mayor Neil Ellis declared an overdose emergency following 23 overdoses occurring in the city over the span of two days. While none of the overdoses occurring that week were fatal, the spike in drug overdoses was so significant that, when 14 overdoses were reported in two hours, Belleville police redirected traffic from the city’s downtown to ensure emergency services could get through to the location of calls.

“The past two days have exemplified just how critical the addiction, mental-health and homelessness crisis has become in our community,” said Ellis in a released statement. “We, as a city, know that we are at the point where doing our best doesn’t cut it anymore. Our emergency services, health care system and municipal resources are being stretched to the very limits and we are close to a breaking point.”

Moreover, a spokesperson for Ontario Minister of Health Sylvia Jones said in an emailed statement that “the overdoses [were] caused by a laced drug in the region,” as officials were working to curb its spread.

In 2023, the Belleville area reported 371 opioid-related calls, including one week in November where 90 overdoses occurred.

“We continue to see spikes in calls for service related to overdoses on a regular basis,” said Belleville Fire Chief Dan Smith in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail. “We can see a period of 24 hours of high call volume or some cases where it lasts over numerous days. During these times, the challenge for responders is dealing with multiple overdoses at one time.”

The emergency was declared under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, which launches a formal request for support from the provincial and federal governments for “a situation or an impending situation that constitutes a danger of major proportions that could result in serious harm to persons or substantial damage to property and that is caused by the forces of nature, a disease or other health risk, an accident or an act whether intentional or otherwise.”

Ellis highlighted the need for support from senior levels of government to achieve lasting change. “We need to be part of a larger plan, focusing on harm reduction and rehabilitation,” he said at a news conference. “As a municipality, we are ready to help and do whatever we can to be part of the solution, but we need some guidance.”

Importantly, Ellis has been calling for millions in provincial funding for a community hub and addiction treatment centre. So far, the city invested $2 million into the project, but requires additional support from the provincial government. As such, he requested an additional $2 million from the province to fill a funding gap so the centre can begin delivering services currently offered at a local church where the recent spike of overdoses had occurred.

“Unfortunately, our efforts are not having the intended effect and are clearly not enough,” said Ellis in his interview with CBC News. “Our city, it’s local businesses, residents and most importantly the vulnerable population need more.”