A graphical digital representation of the impact of the opioid epidemic on Manitoulin Island
MANITOULIN – ‘Out of the Shadows: An-depth look at Manitoulin’s opioid’s Crisis’ first appeared as a special supplement to the June 23, 2021 edition of The Manitoulin Expositor. This remains relevant: Northern Ontario continues to have some of the highest opioid-related death rates in the province and the number continues to rise.
The “Out of the Shadows” website was created entirely in-house by talented Production Manager and “Web Guru” Dave Patterson. A separate site for zone supports complements the website and is referenced throughout the page.
Read the detailed report on the opioid crisis on Manitoulin Island, documented and written by then-Expositor reporter Warren Schlote, and view the revealing photos of Giovanni Capriotti at manitoulin.com/opioid-crisis/.
Data from the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario shows that in the District of Sudbury-Manitoulin, the number of emergency department visits for confirmed opioid overdoses has increased from 326 in 2019 to 520 in 2020, an increase of almost 60%. Preliminary data for the first three months of 2021 shows the number remains high, with 94 opioid-related emergency room visits in the first quarter of this year. The number of opioid-related deaths in Sudbury-Manitoulin nearly doubled from 56 in 2019 to 105 in 2020. In the first five months of 2021, there were 50 opioid-related deaths in the district.
In October, Algoma-Manitoulin MLA Michael Mantha presented a petition to the Ontario legislature calling on the provincial government to take urgent action to save lives in the North. The petition called for the opioid crisis in Northern Ontario to be declared a public health emergency. âOn a per capita basis, the Algoma area and the Sudbury area are among the worst areas in this province,â he told The Expositor.
The Expositor Feature Supplement was originally started as an exploration of anecdotal evidence for a high number of overdose deaths across the island. Police reports were not available and many details appeared to be missing. What began as an attempt to learn more about the state and extent of the opioid crisis in Ontario, Canada and as much as possible on Manitoulin Island has grown into a flagship project that spanned nearly six month. For journalist Warren Schlote and for the website photojournalist Giovanni Capriotti, it has become a labor of love.
“I didn’t know much about what the opioid crisis was,” Schlote said. He thought he could use his youth as an excuse not to know. This led to the idea that other people might not have this in-depth knowledge and might benefit from a more comprehensive explanation as well. “I hoped it might bring them to a better point of understanding.”
Editor (then Editor-in-Chief) Alicia McCutcheon fully supported the project.
âI never thought I would be working on something this size,â recalls Schlote. “I knew I would never be able to grasp the full extent of the crisis we are facing and I achieved peace early enough in the process, which has probably helped me a lot.”
No one was going to read a 700-page report that was still being written three years from now. He realized he needed to focus on a way to increase that awareness and understanding. âThere are just a lot of misunderstandings that exist,â he said. “I thought that was the first thing we had to tackle, was to get everyone involved.”
He wanted to humanize the problem.
âManitoulin Island is such a beautiful and peaceful place on the surface, but like everywhere else there are demons within society and there are issues that are often seen as so important that it is difficult to deal with it. approach them.
Mr. Schlote himself has wrestled with the extent and magnitude of the problem. It took him a few weeks to make introductory calls. He first contacted the Manitoulin Drug Strategy in December 2020 regarding the anecdotal increase in opioid overdoses, but did not hear back until January. âAt this point, I started to realize that people were overdosing everywhere,â he noted. âWe had to do something quickly because there were lives at stake. It was a little disheartening not to get answers.
He made more and more calls and in the end everything went well. He finished making history in mid-May 2021, almost six months after he started. He said he noticed themes while going through his notes and continued to have conversations with people. He realized that this was a way to keep it organized and a little easier for the reader to understand.
âThe hardest part was probably when I picked up the phone and had to call a few people who had been through this,â he revealed. âEither themselves personally or, in one case, the mother and son that I profiled. Her son did not make it and I am so grateful that she wanted and was able to revisit this horrible chapter that took place just a few months before I called her. It wasn’t a phone call I liked to make, but I knew it was important.
While he wanted it to be a hopeful play emphasizing the stories of people who had passed to the other side, to show that it was possible, he realized that “if you only hear stories from people getting out of it, you can’t really get the seriousness of the problem. This is what is at stake here, human lives.
Mr. Schlote said he is very grateful for the help of UCCM Anishnaabe Police Department Inspector Cori Slaughter. âShe gave me a lot of her time. She was able to share and really give me the point of view of the police. He also thanked the Wikwemikong Tribal Police Department for their help. The Manitoulin Detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police has issued a written statement on the matter.
âPart of this problem is that a lot of people want to describe it as a First Nations problem,â Schlote said. âIt all comes down to racial lines, but the data is very clear that it affects all communities. First Nations are disproportionately affected, due to trauma and their long and complicated history.
For photojournalist Giovanni Capriotti, participating in this project as a photojournalist while preparing for the online version was a way of giving back to the community. âIt’s not just the pictures,â he says. âI like working with people. I don’t like to just go there and take pictures, especially if you are going to a small community. It is a bilateral collaboration. We learn from each other.
Mr. Capriotti had a very urban upbringing in Italy. He has experienced both drug culture and stigma, he said. âIf you use opioids and live that type of life, you are still considered less than others. I learned from my experience on the island that it is a mental health issue. It is something that touches people and that materializes in certain social fabrics, in certain wounds, certain things that have happened in the past, such as in the case of aboriginal nations when we talk about intergenerational trauma.
We need to look at the psyche of this trauma rather than the representations we have of people who use opioids, he explained. âWe need to look at the consequences of this trauma that materialize through the opioid crisis. We are looking for people who work in the community to help people heal, so for me this was the perfect place to start giving back.
The images are largely metaphorical, continued Mr. Capriotti. âI had the chance to photograph people who take drugs. I didn’t want to do this. There is no point in picturing people and reiterating this stereotype. It won’t do anything for their community.
He believes that this closer examination of the problem offers people hope and a reminder that there is help and solutions. âWe are trying to dispel the stigma attached to drug use,â he added. “You can really heal and do whatever you want with your life without using any substances.”
While working on the project, Mr. Capriotti spent a night with Sergeant Scott Cooper of the Wikwemikong Tribal Police Department. Sergeant Cooper is in one of the photos; he is the officer of the truck under the stars. Mr. Capriotti didn’t bring all of his gear that evening, so they mostly spent time talking. Mr. Capriotti was deeply struck by Sergeant Cooper’s concept of emotional intelligence and how small communities are handled. âIt’s a testament and a manifesto of how a police officer should be. City officers have so much trouble dealing with crises, mental health and addictions because they are out of touch. The Toronto police officer will not know the person who overdoses. He is barely connected to these people. You have to understand the community.
The final part of the story is about the things communities and organizations have done around Manitoulin to make things better. “I wanted to end on that note,” Schlote explained. âI meant to say that there are people who have looked at the problem, have put in the time and thought about what we can do to change it for the better rather than throwing it back on someone else. What little thing can we do? What can we do to alleviate some of this tension? He’s not a faceless monster. Maybe we can just lend an ear or watch those who are having difficulty. Maybe we can donate to an organization that is working on the issue. I wanted to make it something that would grab people’s attention, grab them, and allow them to see the big picture and hopefully make a decision towards a better future.