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Silence from Ontario Ministry of Health as Time Runs Out to Save Supervised Consumption Sites

Updated: May 17

Reposted from our partners at the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition.


The Coalition's Ontario Partners are working on a collective day of action – stay tuned for details for Barrie!


 

March 18, 2024

By CDPC


Two weeks have passed since 51 groups from across Ontario sent an open letter calling on the provincial government to immediately fund and support supervised consumption sites. But despite the coalition’s request for an emergency meeting by March 13, Minister of Health Sylvia Jones and Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Michael Tibollo have not responded.


The groups are speaking out to secure emergency funding and prevent impending closures of sites in Sudbury and Timmins. More than 500 people have died from drug poisoning in Ontario so far this year. 


“I am horrified. This is a life-and-death emergency, and we are being ignored,” says Rev. George Bozanich of the Windsor CTS Advocacy Coalition. “Without these services, Ontarians die.  These are our children, parents, siblings and neighbours. I cannot imagine the Ministers and the Premier ignoring a similar lifesaving request on any other issue.”   


Since the current provincial government came to power in 2018, unregulated drug deaths have surged. “Toxic drugs killed nine people every day in the first two months of this year,” says Beeta Senedjani of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. “The dead would fill every seat on at least eleven school buses. This is an emergency. The province needs to start acting like it.”   


Supervised consumption sites are a proven health intervention where trained staff respond to overdose emergencies and offer supports and connections to health and social services. Evidence consistently shows the sites save lives and significantly reduce emergency calls and hospital visits.  


“The province’s actions have put municipal governments, local health boards and even the public in the impossible position of having to either foot the bill for a provincial responsibility or watch their communities suffer,” says Matthew Shoemaker, Mayor of Sault Ste. Marie. “This crisis is a foremost challenge for municipalities, who don’t have the resources or the mandate to fund health care. We badly need stable support and action from the Government of Ontario and we need it now.”  


“The entire years-long process has been an irresponsible use of public funds,” says Michael Brennan of Pozitive Pathways in Windsor, whose site was forced to close in December. “Supervised consumption sites are a proven lifesaving intervention that reduce costs and burdens across our public systems, on police, paramedics and emergency departments. We have complied with every requirement.  We cannot wait any longer.” 


Last fall, the Province of Ontario put all supervised consumption site applications on indefinite hold pending a critical incident review for one site in Toronto. The decision came after a bystander was tragically killed in the vicinity of a Toronto site last summer.  


“A lengthy review of a tragic, isolated incident is preventing desperate communities across the province from implementing lifesaving services amidst a public health emergency,” says Michael Parkinson of the Drug Strategy Network of Ontario. “Critical incidents occur frequently in other settings, such as hospitals. But they never result in freezing funding or site approvals.”  


Several communities have waited for approval since long before the review. Barrie and Sudbury applied over two years ago. Citing the province’s pause, a Hamilton application was withdrawn after two years. In Sault Ste Marie, a site application is instead being directed to the federal government. Windsor’s only site shut its doors at the end of December after waiting over a year. Without immediate provincial funding, sites in Sudbury and Timmins will close in two weeks. 


“When I think about losing Safe Health Site Timmins, I am afraid for our community,” says Jason Sereda of DIY Community Health in Timmins. “We are running out of time.” Premier Doug Ford has said the review results will be released this month, too late for those who have already died of drug poisoning. 


The open letter calls for the elimination of unnecessary barriers and immediate sustained provincial funding for supervised consumption sites, including inhalation services, to meet the urgent needs of communities. The coalition emphasizes that these demands require immediate provincial action to prevent further loss of life and harm to communities across Ontario. 


“Minister Jones, please listen to us. This is an emergency,” says Amber Fritz of Réseau ACCESS Network in Sudbury. “We need your leadership. You have a choice: you have the opportunity to save lives and costs to the system, or you can continue to do nothing. If our loved ones die, that will be your legacy.”   


-30- 


Documents and links available: 

  • Open Letter 

  • [Recording] March 5 2024 Online Briefing on Open Letter RE: Ontario Supervised Consumption Services with speakers from the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, Pozitive Pathways in Windsor, Reseau ACCESS in Sudbury, Safe Health Site in Timmins and the Drug Strategy Network of Ontario.  


Media Contact: 

Jessica Hannon for the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition [contact to arrange interviews]



Ontario's toxic drug crisis is about to lose vital services with the impending closures of supervised consumption sites – please add your voice to the call!

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