‘It’s murder’: How lethal opioids devastated a small region of Ontario

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‘It’s murder’: How lethal opioids devastated a small region of Ontario

The wood framed clock on the table of Melissa Hurst’s living room is stopped at 7:42 a.m.

Inside the clock are the ashes of her son, Luke, who on Mother’s Day 2017 was discovered at that same minute in his bed dead of an overdose.

He was 19.

“My heart was ripped out that day,” Hurst told Global News. “I wake up with pain every single day. I go to bed in pain thinking of him and in some ways I feel like I failed him as his mother.”

Hurst lives in Oro-Medonte, Ont., a bucolic town nestled on the shores of Lake Simcoe, a short drive from Orillia and about an hour and half north of Toronto. It’s an area people flock to on their way to cottage country, and visit in winter time to ski in Horseshoe Valley.

Simcoe County and the cities of Orillia and Barrie are made up of quiet neighbourhoods of Victorian homes with country roads linking to small downtown areas that blend local businesses with big box stores and chain restaurants. Long, scenic sections of the Niagara Escarpment run through western parts of the county that turn golden in the fall.

MORE: Read the full Fentanyl investigation

But the Simcoe-Muskoka area of Ontario has been devastated by powerful opioids like illicit fentanyl and carfentanil, where the overdose rate is significantly higher than the provincial average.

In 2017, the area saw the rate of emergency hospital visits for overdoses rise to 77.1 visits per 100,000 people, compared to a provincial rate of 54.6 visits, according to Public Health Ontario.

Between 2013 and 2017, deaths more than doubled to 81 a year.