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How would drug laws be enforced around supervised consumption site?

'It is not our intention to enforce against individuals coming or going to the site. However, situations may arise where public and community safety concerns would require police attention,' says police chief

How police would enforce drug laws around a supervised consumption site in the city remains to be seen, but in other cities with the potentially life-saving facilities, law-enforcement officials have sometimes turned a blind eye to things such as drug possession. 

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 the province for cities with 100,000 or more people. 

The topic of a so-called amnesty zone came up at a recent Barrie Police Services Board meeting to address community concerns around a CTS facility and the city's ongoing opioid crisis. 

If the CTS facility is approved and one is established in Barrie, Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood said officers "will remain committed to ensuring public safety within the area, the same as any other area within our community," she said. 

"Barrie police would respond to all calls for service, and will not engage with the clients – who are there to access health services, and as such their privacy is protected – but would work with the staff and the surrounding community at a potential CTS, to ensure no one is victimized," Greenwood told BarrieToday. 

"It is not our intention to enforce against individuals coming or going to the site," added Greenwood, who's also president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police. "However, situations may arise where public and community safety concerns would require police attention."

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. 

Barrie's drug problem has led to the pursuit of a safe consumption site, but there are still many questions about how that would look and work. 

Dr. Lisa Simon, associate medical officer of health with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, which is one of the local agencies behind the CTS application, referred to Vancouver’s Insite, where police have decided to enforce drug-related laws “in a very different way than they do elsewhere.”

Public health officials also have an interest in pursuing an application at the federal level, she said, so they are benefits to completing the public consultations. 

“To apply provincially, you also have to apply federally because it’s the federal government that provides the exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act,” Simon said.

When it comes to amnesty zones, Simon said the belief is that more drug users would use the site if there was no fear of being arrested on drug-related charges.

However, she also said she’s not aware of anywhere in Ontario where that's the case.

“It’s up to local police forces as to how they will manage enforcement around a site and none of them have chosen to go in that direction,” Simon said.

The local health unit, Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and the Gilbert Centre have banded together to develop a CTS application, which requires provincial approval. No application has yet been submitted, although the province's loose deadline looms. 

Coun. Sergio Morales asked what groups of people would be likely to use a supervised consumption site, and whether there were any statistics to show how many of them end of seeking rehabilitation or treatment services to live "wholesome lives."

"I think we can all agree that's the intended goal for everybody," Morales said. "Everybody might not get there, but that's the goal."

"One limitation is there has not been a lot of study into long-term outcomes," Simon said. "I can't tell you, 20 years later, what people's trajectory is, because they research simply hasn't been done."

A supervised consumption site is also only one aspect of the larger, multi-pronged Simcoe Muskoka Opioid Strategy (SMOS) approach to the local drug problem. 

"I can paint you a picture of who we think would use this site," she said. "The main population that tends to use (supervised consumption sites) are highly marginalized and often experiencing homelessness, usually very high intensity drug use already, maybe several times a day.

"(They) often have difficulty engaging in mainstream health and social services, but might feel comfortable in engaging in an (supervised consumption site) for the sake of a safer environment for drug consumption," Simon added.

The hope is that CTS facility users, which Simon said would be "almost entirely" people who are already heavily involved in drug use, would access those services under the new setting. 

"There's certainly no evidence that it contributes to an uptake of new drug use, heightened drug use or gets in the way of people pursuing addiction treatment. Quite the opposite," she said. 

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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