Opioid-related deaths mount in Barrie as province offers no timeline to approve a proposed safe consumption site

The death toll from opioid poisoning in Barrie last year was the third-highest among large Ontario municipalites

A proposed safe consumption and treatment site (CTS) in Barrie is on the desk of the Ontario Minister of Health and waiting for approval, according to Cathy Eisener, a public health nurse at the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDU).

The SMDHU says in 2022, Barrie had the third-highest rate of opioid-related deaths among Ontario’s municipalities with a population of 100,000 or more.

“In 2022, 60 opioid poisoning deaths occurred in Barrie, about double the amount seen prior to the pandemic – when we were already experiencing alarming numbers – and more than double the provincial average. More than half of those 60 people were young adults between 20–44 years of age, and all left behind grieving families, friends, and communities,” the health unit said in a statement.

Health Canada approved an application from the Canadian Mental Health Association for the use of illegal drugs at a proposed safe consumption and treatment site (CTS) in September 2022.

Eisener says another application sent to the province is on the minister’s desk at Queen’s Park.

The site of the proposed CTS is 11 Innisfil Street.

For many years the SMDHU has provided needle exchange and naloxone programming throughout the region.

What’s missing, says Eisener, is that Barrie has nothing to address the drug-toxicity crisis, such as a CTS.

“A CTS provides that supervision while they use their substance, so there is someone there to respond in the event of an opioid poisoning. That decreases the impact on our emergency department, but it also saves lives.”

Eisener says a CTS also builds connections with people who may have questions about accessing healthcare, housing and mental health support.

She adds that a CTS would offer drug-checking services.

“Folks would know what’s in the supply they’re taking and could make a decision about how they are going to use it on site.”

When the location of the proposed CTS was made public in Barrie, alarm bells went off in the neighbourhood about crime and safety.

The SMDHU says CTS sites have been shown to not increase crime, but instead improve public order and safety by reducing the presence of discarded needles and drug paraphernalia as well as reducing public drug use.

Eisener says the province has indicated it would fund 21 sites across Ontario, with 17 currently operating.

“There were sites operating before the election in 2018 and most of those sites got grandfathered into the number of 21.”

Besides Barrie, Eisener is aware of Windsor and Sudbury which has received a Health Canada exemption and is waiting for the province to sign off its approval to open a CTS.