Published October 5, 2023

New supervised consumption sites in Ontario on hold until review complete


Files - Barrie 360

By Liam Casey in Toronto

Ontario has paused approving new supervised consumption and treatment sites while a review of all sites is underway, the province's associate minister of mental health and addictions said Wednesday.

Michael Tibollo said everything is on the table with the review, including the locations of consumption and treatment sites.

"Public safety is a priority for us, and we have to make sure that whatever we do is calculated to be done in such a way to make sure that no one is going to be harmed as a result of the sites being open and being operational," he said.

"And I think we're doing this in the appropriate way, which is to study it and to have experts come back and make recommendations to us that we will implement."

The province launched a "critical incident review" in the summer after a 44-year-old mother of two was killed by a stray bullet near a consumption site in Toronto's east end following a physical altercation between three men.

Police have laid charges against several people in the death of Karolina Huebner-Makurat, including accessory after the fact and obstructing justice counts laid against a woman who worked at the South Riverdale Community Health Centre.

Huebner-Makurat's death sparked outrage and a debate over supervised consumption sites.

Tibollo said the province is not looking at shutting down any of Ontario's 17 supervised consumption and treatment sites.

I don't see that as being one of the options, it's not what we're looking at," Tibollo said. "We know that there is some benefit to them because we've seen the outcomes."

He said the province is trying to create a system that provides low barrier access to anyone who wants help that also balances public safety.

Tibollo said he's still waiting to receive the recommendations from the review.

"The recommendations, as I understand them, are going to be based on establishing how we can improve the relationship between the communities where they're located and the people that are in need of having these places to go to," he said.

He said the province is looking at ideas such as adding extra security to the sites and more health-care workers, and is also examining the hours they operate.

"When you look at the consumption and treatment sites and you look at when people are dying of overdoses, there's a lot of people still dying alone and they're dying alone in bed at night," Tibollo said.

"We don't have consumption and treatment sites that are open at night, so what more can we do as a government to expand supports?"

The province is also looking at other models of care, including one program Tibollo said exists in Alberta that allows for a paramedic to show up to someone's home if they do not answer a call 10 minutes after taking drugs.

He said the province is also considering other harm reduction options such as providing free kits to test drugs for fentanyl, benzodiazepines and xylosine, a horse tranquilizer, that are being found by coroners in the systems of those who've died by opioid poisoning.

"These are all harm reduction methods that are going to help us get this problem under control," Tibollo said.

He stressed the most important thing the government is doing is creating capacity in the system to help by adding 7,000 treatment spots across the province.

"We've got more to do," he said. "The most important thing we can do is help that individual get into recovery treatment."

The news is a setback for advocates seeking a supervised consumption site (SCS) in Barrie.

In an interview this past June with Barrie 360, Cathy Eisener, a public health nurse at the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, said a proposal for a SCS was on the desk of the Ontario Minister of Health waiting for approval.

Health Canada approved an application from the Canadian Mental Health Association for the use of illegal drugs at a proposed SCS at 11 Innisfil Street in September 2022.

According to Eisener, in 2022, Barrie had the third-highest rate of opioid-related deaths among Ontario municipalities with a population of 100,000 or more.

The latest figures from the Office of the Chief Coroner show a slight decrease in opioid toxicity deaths in the first quarter, 649, compared to the previous one, 675.

Opioid deaths began to rise in Ontario in 2015 when illicit fentanyl made its way to the province. Those deaths surged during the pandemic.

In 2021, the mortality rate for opioid toxicity hit its peak of 19.3 deaths per 100,000 people. That mortality rate has dropped in the first quarter of 2023 to 17.5 deaths per 100,000 people.

In 2019, the mortality rate for opioids was 10.7 deaths per 100,000 people.

Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 5, 2023.

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