A temporary overdose prevention site will be launched in Peterborough to tackle what health officials are calling the “growing opioid crisis.”
PARN (formerly known as the Peterborough AIDS Resource Network )announced Tuesday it will expand its existing harm reduction services to provide a space for people who use opioids to use the drugs under the supervision of health professionals in order to prevent overdose deaths.
In 2017, it’s estimated that 20 people died from opioid overdoses in Peterborough, says PARN.
A study by the Ontario Drug Policy Network says Peterborough had the fourth-highest annual rate of opioid-related deaths between July 2013 and July 2016 and ranked third highest in opioid poisoning hospitalizations in 2016-2017 in Ontario.
The Temporary Overdose Prevention Site will run from three to six months.
“The opioid crisis is far from over,” said PARN executive director Kim Dolan. “In our community, we will likely see more overdoses in the coming year and, sadly, more deaths than we have ever seen. This complex crisis is a call to action.
“With leadership from both the provincial and federal governments, we have an opportunity to immediately respond to the opioid crisis and save lives.”
Dolan says the site will provide trained staff, peers and volunteers who can intervene should an overdose occur.
In December 2017, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care announced an expanded response to the province’s opioid drug crisis and started accepting applications for overdose prevention sites in January.
Peterbrough MPP Jeff Leal praises PARN for taking the lead and expanding their services.
“It is clear that this crisis is a concern for everyone in our community,” said Leal.
“This site will provide necessary health services that are accessible and free of stigma that will help save lives.”
Dr. Rosana Salvaterra, Peterborough Public Health’s medical officer of health, says Canadian and international studies show supervised drug consumption is beneficial to not only the user but also the broader community.
“With outcomes such as reduced overdose deaths, reduced public drug use, reduced discarded equipment in public spaces and increased use of treatment services,” she said. “They have also been found to be cost-effective and do not increase crime in the area around the service.”
Peterborough Police Service chief Murray Rodd says officers have seen first-hand the devastating impact and tragedy that opioids and more recently, fentanyl, has had on the community.
“We cannot arrest our way out of addictions,” said Rodd. “We cannot arrest our way out of this health crisis.
“Our service remains focused on those who profit from the illicit drug trade and not those who are victims of it. Until we can discover ways to get at the root cause of the issue community agencies will continue to work together and support the cause of providing safe spaces that have a medical intervention component for those with addictions.”
PARN will be working with community partners and people who inject drugs to identify a location for the site. Once selected, an application for funding will be submitted to the province with approval expected to take two weeks.
“Through their collaboration and dedication, they are responding to the opioid crisis that’s affecting individuals and families in Peterborough and in communities throughout Ontario,” said Mayor Daryl Bennett. “They are helping to save lives, prevent illness and connect people who use substances with services that can assist them.”
Community information sessions will be scheduled once a location has been identified.
In 2017, Peterborough County/City Paramedics reported that they experienced a 65 per cent increase in overdose/intoxication-type calls, compared to an average yearly increase of 15 per cent between 2014-2016. The average age of opioid-related overdose patients in 2017 was 36 years old.
“The tragic reality is that people – our friends, our colleagues, our neighbours, our children, our parents – are needlessly dying,” said Dolan.