Few benefits to enacting a public health emergency over Opioid Crisis in Barrie

Staff report advises against it

The City of Barrie wants to do all it can to overcome the opioid crisis – considered to be the third worst, among cities its size, in Canada – but declaring it a public health emergency may not help.

In fact, a staff report says it could have adverse effects.

Related: Spike In Overdose Visits to RVH So Far This Month

Making such a declaration would mean the city’s emergency control group – made up of senior staff and police – would be activated. In the case of a storm or a natural disaster it is a short-term endeavor since the end of the emergency is a matter of days, or weeks, away. Once a municipality declares a local emergency, that municipality is responsible for mitigating it. With no overnight fix to the opioid issue, the city would have to be prepared to commit resources to the effort for a significant period.

Consider, too, there is no financial benefit to declaring this crisis an emergency. The provincial government has no obligation to provide funding to help deal with it.

And there is concern about the optics. Since no other city has made such a declaration, it could lead to a perception the crisis is worse in Barrie than anywhere else. Businesses in Barrie have told staff, anecdotally, that the opioid crisis has already had a negative impact on visitors to the downtown, fearing a declaration would further reduce foot traffic.


Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman says a declaration would not alter the fact the city is already working the problem, “We’re already doing pretty much all of what could be done under an emergency, anyway. It wouldn’t change much.” Lehman noting the city has taken steps to ensure everyone has the tools needed to deal with the crisis. Firefighters carrying naloxone to treat overdoses is a good example of that.

In addition, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit has said an emergency declaration would only create short-term attention that would unlikely result in long-term change. Mayor Lehman agrees. He says it’s important to treat the disease (the reasons people became addicted, whether it be through prescriptions or due to mental health or other reasons) not just its symptoms, “I think the important thing that has been raised here, is a lot of understanding or interest, and awareness that we have a huge crisis. There is no way around that. But we’re not going to solve it overnight, and we have to solve it with the root causes of addiction, and not just treating the symptoms.”