Coalition of groups meet in Barrie and call for decriminalization to combat overdose deaths

The Barrie region has one of the highest overdose rates in Ontario

The Simcoe Muskoka region’s first-ever public health dialogue on the overdose crisis opened in Barrie on Tuesday with a call for decriminalization of drugs.

The John Howard Society Simcoe Muskoka, Gilbert Centre, Indigenous Harm Reduction Network, and Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (Simon Fraser University) is hosting the event, bringing together leaders from diverse sectors of society to identify and move towards policy solutions.

“Decriminalization is the simplest, safest, and easiest step in reducing social ills that intersect drug use and poverty, and these are helping fuel overdose death and drug poisonings,” said Silas Randell, a harm reduction worker at the Gilbert Centre.

The Barrie region has one of the highest overdose rates in Ontario.

In 2020, there were 134 opioid poisoning deaths in Simcoe Muskoka for a rate of 22.2 deaths per 100,000, significantly higher than the provincial rate of 16.4 deaths per 100,000, and which was more than 60% higher than the average of 81 deaths from the previous three years.

In response, Getting to Tomorrow Barrie has brought together people with lived/living experience of drug use and harm reduction to leaders from healthcare, government, First Nations, and law enforcement.

The conference has several aims including:

  • Accelerate the adoption of public health- and human rights-based drug policies in
    Canada, including “safe supply” and decriminalization
  • Empower decision-makers and the public to take evidence-based actions by
    providing the latest research on policies that could end the overdose/drug poisoning
  • Engage the public in dialogue on issues related to substance use and drug policy in
    an effort to reduce stigma
  • “Governments have moved mountains in response to the COVID-19 pandemic while a coherent pan-Canadian approach to over 21,000 overdose deaths in the past five years has failed to materialize,” said Donald MacPherson, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. “We hope Getting to Tomorrow will inform, engage, and inspire Canadians to become more involved in building a new approach to drugs based on principles of public health and human rights and lead to improved health and safety for all in our communities.”

    Provincially, there were 2,728 opioid deaths from June 2020 to May 2021, which is over 56% higher than the previous 12 months. In Ontario, there have been over 200 deaths in 12 of the 15 months since COVID-19, a threshold that has never been previously reached.

    The conference continues on Thursday.