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Opioid crisis across Southwestern Ontario highlighted as pharmacist sentenced for stealing, possessing for purposes of trafficking fentanyl and hydromophone tablets

By Heather Rivers, Woodstock Sentinel-Review

Yogesh Patel

Yogesh Patel

A former Woodstock pharmacist, who stole fentanyl and hydromorphone tablets with a street value of almost $1 million, received a harsh sentence just as many say opioid overdoses have hit a crisis point in Southwestern Ontario.

Former Woodstock pharmacist Yogesh Patel, 47, received a precedent-setting sentence of 11 years on Tuesday.

Patel admitted that he forged documents, defrauded and stole prescription narcotics from Rexall and the Ontario Drug Benefit Plan, and possessed hydromorphone, morphine and the potentially deadly painkiller fentanyl for the purpose of trafficking.

Fentanyl is considered the leading cause of opioid overdose in Ontario.

“I think it is a breach of trust for the community and would have had a very profound impact on the availability of fentanyl,” explained Linda Sibley, executive director of Addiction Services of Thames Valley. “We know that if more fentanyl is available more people will take it.”

Sibley said she wants people to know there is help available by calling the Reach Out number located at the bottom of the article.

“For people out there who need help, we have help to give,” she said.

Across the region, fentanyl hitting local streets have prompted rare public health warnings in Woodstock, London and Sarnia of the danger of street drugs such as heroine laced with fentanyl.

According to the Canadian Institute of Health Information, the city of London is second only to Kelowna, B.C. and Brantford in the rate of people admitted to hospital with opioid toxicity symptoms.

Mike McMahon, executive director of CMHA Oxford, said he is exposed to news on a regular basis on the effects of the opioid crisis.

While overdose deaths are reported, the extent of the problem due to hospitalizations often isn’t.

“I believe it affects all areas of the province and is likely underreported,” he said. “We are losing people every day in the province of Ontario. But people are also being hospitalized every day, which has a tremendous impact on families and communities. People are dying and people are becoming very ill due to the opioid crisis. Our role is to respond with our partners with an holistic approach to the opioid crisis.”

Sgt. Heidi Becks, of the Woodstock Police Services’ drugs and intelligence unit, said Woodstock is no different than other areas of the province.

“We are seeing the same thing the rest of the country seeing,” she said. “Woodstock is not immune to the fentanyl crisis.”

One outcome is a focus of how officers seize powdered substances and the importance of personal protection equipment.

“The safety of our officers is paramount,” she said.

All officers will also soon be equipped with NARCAN, a nasal spray version of Naloxone, which reverses the effects of opioid medication.

Becks, who was the lead investigator of the Patel case, referred to 11 year sentence as “fairly decent.”

“If you look at other cases, they have significantly less (sentences) than what he was sentenced to,” she said.

Advocate Betty-Lou Kristy, a survivor of mental health issues and drug and alcohol addiction, is also a mother who lost her 25-year-old son to an accidental drug overdose in 2001.

She is a provincial lived experience/family systems advisor, educator and advocate who helps to frame policy, governance and funding for many provincial organizations such as the health ministry.

“Although I have worked hard in my life to be compassionate and not rush to judgment; it is very hard as a mother who lost her beautiful son to an opioid overdose not to respond strongly to this proliferation of opioids to our children and community from professionals we are supposed to be able to trust," she said.

The toll free number for Reach Out1-866-933-2023. The website is www.reachout247.ca

Hrivers@postmedia.com