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Downtown councillor confident police have right approach to consumption site

Ward 2's Keenan Aylwin says he likes police department's 'compassionate and common-sense approach'

The downtown Barrie city councillor whose ward is rife with drug use and medical calls says he has confidence in local police and how they plan to respond to calls if the province OK's a supervised consumption site (SCS) in the city. 

A local group is preparing an application to be sent to the province to open a Consumption and Treatment Services (CTS) facility in Barrie, which has the third worst opioid problem in Ontario for cities with 100,000 or more people.

The rationale behind a supervised consumption site is that they provide a safe and clean space for people to use their own drugs under the care of nursing staff. They can also connect clients to doctors, treatment and other health and social services.

If the CTS facility is approved by the Ford government, Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood has said officers still have a duty to maintain public safety, but would also not engage people using the site to ingest their drugs. 

Ward 2 Coun. Keenan Aylwin says he likes that "compassionate and common-sense approach." 

"I have confidence in the Barrie Police Service’s ability to get the balance right when it comes to enforcement around a potential safe consumption site in Barrie," Aylwin told BarrieToday. 

"Chief Greenwood has already said that they will not actively target drug-users coming to the site, but that they will ensure that no one is victimized and that public order is maintained," Aylwin added. "I think this is the right approach."

In 2017, there were 78 overdose deaths in Simcoe Muskoka, including 36 in Barrie. Complete 2018 numbers aren't available yet, health officials say there was a "potential stabilization," according to recent numbers. 

The local group behind the provincial CTS application -- which includes the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, the Gilbert Centre and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) -- has said they don't have any potential locations yet, but site criteria is being considered while the application is being completed.

One determining factor is that, if approved, the CTS facility should be located in an area where there's already a high level of drug use. 

Public health officials have said Barrie's downtown area, roughly bordered by St. Vincent Street, Highway 400, Tiffin Street and Lake Simcoe, has four times the rate of calls for drug-related medical attention compared to other Barrie neighbourhoods. 

"I have heard from residents and business owners that they are alarmed by the high number of deaths due to the opioid overdose crisis," Aylwin said. "I’m proud that our city is rallying around this issue and that people are open to a compassionate and evidence-based approach that includes an SCS."

To address community concerns, Aylwin says he wants to see a community liaison committee established once an SCS is in place, "so that residents and business owners have a clear point of contact to mitigate issues that may arise," he said. 

Meanwhile, community consultations are underway for the CTS application, including a drop-in meeting on Wednesday, March 20 from 4-8 p.m. at Barrie City Hall. The application isn't expected to make the province's deadline, but health officials are pushing ahead. 

City council has also discussed the possibility of declaring a public health emergency to combat the local drug issue, but that move hasn't been made. Council will first try to access more provincial and federal funding.

BY THE NUMBERS

According to the Simcoe Muskoka Opioid Strategy's Lived Experience Survey from 2018, key problems most commonly identified by respondents in the community as leading to opioid misuse, addiction and overdose were:
-- mental health/illness (67.4%); 
-- past and/or current trauma (67.4%); 
-- easy access to opioids (62.9%); 
-- medical prescribing of opioids (59.6%); 
-- knowing other people who do drugs (53.9%); 
-- lack of treatment for addictions (52.8%);
-- pain (aside from opioids; 52.8%).


Raymond Bowe

About the Author: Raymond Bowe

Raymond is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting from Simcoe County since 2000
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