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OPIOID CRISIS, PART 3: Proposed safe injection site remains mired in politics

'We have to recognize that this is the worst public health crisis since the flu pandemic of 1919 and we need to move with urgency to provide solutions to this crisis'

The push to bring a safe injection/consumption site to Barrie has been in the works for months, but the debate is expected to ramp up again in the coming weeks.

The Gilbert Centre, with backing from the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, originally applied for an overdose prevention site (OPS) last spring under the former Liberal government, but must now bring a new application to the province following a change in government this past summer.

“We have to recognize that this is the worst public health crisis since the flu pandemic of 1919 and we need to move with urgency to provide solutions to this crisis,” said Matt Turner, harm reduction co-ordinator at the Gilbert Centre.

The newly elected Progressive Conservatives scrapped the OPS model in favour of new guidelines under what the province is now calling Consumption and Treatment Services (CTS).

“This means that there is a brand-new process,” said city councillor Keenan Aylwin, whose downtown ward has oftentimes been Ground Zero for open and flagrant drug use.

The Gilbert Centre had initially applied to the province for an OPS in April 2018.

In October 2018, the Ford government announced its new CTS model, which is to include “integrated, wrap-around services” that connect people to primary care, treatment, health and social services.

In Ontario, there are 10 safe injection sites operating, as well as 18 more proposed sites. In addition, the province says it will also create more detox beds in high-need communities across Ontario.

Under the PCs, the approved sites would require an ongoing monitoring and reporting plan, as well as reviews of performance, outcomes and compliance.

A decision has not been made by provincial officials about whether a CTS facility will operate in Barrie.

According to the province’s 23-page CTS application guide, ministry of health officials will determine which municipalities can operate such a facility based on a number of factors, including mortality rate and opioid-related hospital visits as well as measures such as distribution of needles and naloxone, which is an overdose reversal agent.

Over the first six months of 2018, there were 31 confirmed and four probable opioid-related deaths in Simcoe Muskoka, which was similar to the 33 opioid-related deaths in Simcoe Muskoka from January to June 2017, according to data from the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit. 

Under the application parameters, CTS services are also not to be concentrated in one neighbourhood, and consideration of the location would also depend on the proximity to schools and daycare facilities.

One organization is permitted to apply to the province to operate more than one CTS facility. Applicants must also demonstrate ongoing community support and engagement.

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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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