Barrie will have to wait a little longer to see if it gets the go-ahead from the province to open an overdose prevention site (OPS).
Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Christine Elliott issued a statement Friday afternoon regarding OPS’s and supervised consumption sites, calling for more time to look into the issue before allowing cities to operate such facilities.
Elliott says she is finalizing her recommendations after reviewing the latest data, evidence and current site models, visiting various sites and holding consultations.
“This is an important determination that we need to get right and one that must not be rushed,” she said, adding the province is asking the federal government for an extension of Ontario's class exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) while they conclude their review.
“Our government’s overriding priority is to ensure that all efforts to combat opioid addiction are designed to introduce people into rehabilitation and that those struggling with addiction get the help they need,” Elliott added.
The ministry of health says OPS's provide easy-to-access, life-saving services in a stigma-free environment, to help reduce the growing number of opioid-related overdose deaths. The sites could provide supervised injection, harm-reduction material, including disposal of used supplies, and Naloxone.
The local application to bring an OPS to Barrie was submitted to the province April 10.
At the Gilbert Centre, which is taking the lead on Barrie’s OPS application, harm reduction co-ordinator Matt Turner said he was not surprised by Friday’s move.
“It was expected; we know this a tough position for the government,” Turner told BarrieToday. “We’re optimistic the government will see the evidence is clear that these sites work.”
Turner says he understands Elliott is exercising due diligence. However, he also noted there are more than 200 studies and 40 years of experience to draw on.
“We look forward to the minister confirming what we know already,” Turner said.
The Barrie application will remain pending for now.
“We’re still under review and it’s not dead yet,” Turner said. “We could have an approval once their review is done."
In the meantime, "we will continue to advocate on the need for this site for our community," Turner added.
In the first three months of 2018, Turner said there have been 22 local overdose deaths and emergency-room visits are triple what they were last year. There has also been an increase in the number of people being dropped off at the ER without paramedic or police involvement.
“This is concerning as it means folks are using in unsafe places, which our OPS will address,” Turner said. “With winter approaching, we worry about a shrinking number of safe spaces for people to use and the risk of folks becoming more isolated with inclement weather.”
The Alliance for Healthier Communities, of which Gilbert Centre executive director Gerry Croteau is a member along with more than a dozen other similar organizations, penned a letter on Friday following Elliott’s announcement.
The Gilbert Centre, formerly known as the AIDS Committee of Simcoe County until 2015, is a community-based, not-for-profit charitable organization that has been providing programs and services for close to three decades. It offers a needle exchange, counselling services on how to reduce use as well as safer administration of drugs, and overdose prevention training.
On Jan. 22, 2018, staff from the Gilbert Centre, the Barrie Community Health Centre, the David Busby Street Centre and the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit visited KeepSIX and Moss Park overdose prevention sites.
On March 13, the Gilbert Centre and Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) agreed to be the applicant and co-applicant for an OPS in Barrie. That same day, the Gilbert Centre’s board of directors approved applying for an OPS and a week later, the CMHA board of directors also got on board.
To view the Alliance for Healthier Communities' open letter to Minister Elliott, click here.