Barrie could see an overdose prevention site located downtown soon, in order to address the ongoing opioid crisis.
In March, the Royal Victoria Health Centre in Barrie released a statement regarding an “alarming spike” in overdose-related incidents within the city. According to the health centre, the number of opioid overdoses the emergency department treats has spiked in the last year, and increased five-fold over the last five years.
Between April 2017 and February 2018, the health centre reports having treated 330 overdoses.
In order to combat this overwhelming crisis, the Gilbert Centre, along with the Simcoe County branch of CMHA, filed an application with the Ministry of Health to ask for funding for an Overdose Prevention Site.
Overdose prevention sites are a preliminary step to having a more permanent safe injection site established within a community. If statistics show the overdose prevention sites are being utilized, they may be replaced with a more permanent safe injection site. These sites offer supervised injection and are equipped with harm reduction supplies, including safe disposals and Naloxone.
Matt Turner, Harm Reduction Coordinator at the Gilbert Centre, says that with the escalating overdose crisis in the community, applying for funding from the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care for an overdose prevention site was a key initiative in addressing the issue.
According to Turner, the rate of opioid-related overdoses in Barrie is 2.5 times the provincial average. This is up from last year’s reports.
In 2017, Barrie’s overdose rate per 100,000 residents was the third-highest in the province at 136.3. The provincial rate per 100,000 people was 55.4.
Turner says while there is no key reason as to why Barrie has such a high overdose rate, there are several contributing factors. For instance, often those who use opioids are on a lower economic level. This, coupled with the high unemployment rate in the city, has an impact. Additionally, Turner says those who use opioids often have a difficult time accessing healthcare, which is another key issue within the city.
Although the opioid crisis is so widespread it has touched every demographic, Turner says there are some people who are at a higher risk of overdosing. He says people who use alone, who don’t have good access to healthcare, people just released from prisons or hospitals, and repeat users, are especially at risk.
RVH emergency physician and medical director of the Intensive Care Unit, Dr. Chris Martin, says those who use recreational drugs are playing a “deadly game of Russian Roulette.”
“It’s not just hard-core drug users who are overdosing. This is impacting recreational drug-users, even first-time users. There is no safe street drug right now,” Dr. Martin said in a statement in March.
Overdose prevention sites exist to minimize that risk.
Turner says overdose prevention sites serve vulnerable populations by providing people with a safe place to use, while also ensuring greater public safety.
Turner emphasizes that overdose prevention sites have no negative impact on communities, and says they actually help to reduce drug-related litter, such as needles, from ending up on the streets. They also reduce the number of people injecting on the streets.
He also stresses that overdose prevention sites don’t encourage more people to use drugs.
“People who are going to use the OPS are already established drug users. They have already been using for a long time. These sites don’t encourage more people to use drugs, that’s a common concern,” Turner says.
The application was submitted to the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care on April 10. For now, it is a waiting game to see whether funding will be approved.
According to Ministry of Health and Longterm Care spokesperson David Jensen, the overdose prevention site application for Barrie is currently under review by the ministry.
“We have been working with local partners and municipalities regarding support for this application,” Jensen said in an email response.
Jensen says that overall, the ministry has received 16 applications for overdose prevention sites from across the province.
In terms of municipal support, Turner says Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman has been supportive, but is weary of how fast it has all been happening.
On Monday, Barrie city council discussed a motion to invite representatives from the Gilbert Centre, and CMHA to present their findings regarding the overdose prevention site for downtown Barrie sometime before the end of June.