Belleville Declares State of Emergency Following Surge in Drug Overdoses


The City of Belleville has declared a state of emergency in response to a growing number of drug overdoses that is leaving local emergency personnel, hospitals, and municipal services “close to a breaking point.”

Mayor Neil Ellis announced the state of emergency on Feb. 8, saying the small southeastern Ontario city simply does not have the resources it needs to cope with the ongoing “crisis.”

“The past few days have shown just how critical the addiction, mental health and homelessness crisis has become,” Mr. Ellis told The Epoch Times in a phone interview on Feb. 8.

“We, as a city, know that we are at the point where doing our best doesn’t cut it anymore,” he said, adding that the city’s resources are “being stretched to the very limits and we are close to a breaking point.”

The mayor’s comments come two days after local paramedics and police responded to 14 overdoses in the city’s downtown core between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. One of those calls involved nine overdoses at one time, the city said in an emailed press release. Three additional calls were received later that day, bringing the total to 17 overdoses in a 24-hour period.

The volume of calls Feb. 6 led the Belleville Police Service to issue a public advisory asking residents to avoid the city’s downtown core so emergency vehicles could more easily access the area near Bridge Street United Church.

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The church, which offers a daily meal program and drop-in services for the city’s homeless, was an “epicentre” for Tuesday’s crisis, Mr. Ellis said.

“When this hit Tuesday, we thought we might be in the same predicament that we were in” last November, the mayor said, adding that within the past 24 hours there have been six overdoses.

In the first week of November 2023, emergency services responded to more than 90 overdoses; an “astronomical” rise above the usual six or seven calls, Belleville Police Chief Mike Callaghan told reporters at the time.

Hastings County Paramedic Chief Carl Bowker told The Epoch Times that there had been an uptick in opioid-related calls in the Belleville area beginning last week.

“There were reports that some of these opioids might be released with a powerful sedative that wasn’t responding” to Naloxone, a medication used to reverse or reduce the effects of opioids, he said.

Chief Bowker said police suspected in November that drugs were being laced with GHB, also known as the date rape drug. He said it’s possible this week’s overdoses may be the result of something similar.

“We’re hearing that maybe some of [the drugs] have GHB,” he said. “And we’ve heard reports that it’s laced with an animal tranquilizer. It might have ketamine in it, which is a powerful anesthetic. So we don’t know. We don’t want to speculate on that. But that’s certainly what we suspect.”

Call for Help

Mr. Ellis called the pace being set by emergency personnel in responding to the overdose calls “exhausting.”

“I spoke to fire personnel today and they had 25 calls, I believe, in 24 hours and a lot of the calls were [overdoses], so it is very taxing on our resources,” he said, adding that Belleville simply cannot bear the burden of the drug crisis alone.

The mayor said overdoses are part of a much larger issue that involves the lack of affordable housing and an increasing level of homelessness in cities throughout Ontario. That, along with a deficiency in funding for mental health and addiction issues is culminating in increased drug use and overdoses, he said.

Mr. Ellis said declaring the state of emergency in Belleville was a bid to get the attention of the provincial government.

“We need serious action and support from senior level government to deal with this crisis and until we begin to see meaningful discussions on how to address the matter, I fear nothing will change,” he said.

Currently Belleville has about 200 people living on the streets, he said, adding that 66 percent of those people are from Hastings County, the second-largest county in Ontario. Belleville, the county seat, is where the homeless congregate, the mayor said, because the city has the most to offer when it comes to health care and food programs.

He described affordable housing as an immediate need, but it’s one the city can’t afford to address alone.

“If we really wanted to burden the taxpayers and attempted [to handle the problem], we could, but economically it wouldn’t be feasible on our tax base,” he said. He noted that the city of 56,000 has a tax base of only slightly more than 22,000.

The government also needs to address the mental health and drug addiction crisis, he said, adding that “there are basically no facilities for people to get help or it’s obviously a long waiting list.”

Emergency care is also an issue, according to Chief Bowker, who said health-care staffing levels were insufficient to deal with the crisis.

“We’re already facing a bit of a health-care crisis in terms of overall staffing and ability [to respond],” he said. “When we get a huge spike, and it’s unexpected like this, it inhibits our ability to respond effectively to the next medical emergency. It becomes a public safety issue.”

He stressed the importance of long-term solutions such as increased access to mental health services and housing initiatives, but said immediate solutions are needed in the interim.

“What keeps me up at night is what are the short-term mitigation strategies that we can implement to see a reduction [in overdoses]?” he said. “I think that’s the biggest challenge facing us right now.”


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