Mental health experts push for overdose prevention site as Barrie’s opioid crisis escalates

The application for an overdose prevention site in Barrie is under review by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.
The application for an overdose prevention site in Barrie is under review by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Jonathan Hayward

Barrie council heard a presentation from a representative from the Gilbert Centre regarding a possible overdose prevention site in Barrie at city council on Monday evening.

While councillors heard the presentation for the first time this week, the application for funding to place an overdose prevention site in Barrie was actually submitted to the province back in April.

The Gilbert Centre, along with the Simcoe County branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), filed an application with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to appeal for funding for an overdose prevention site, as one part of a multifaceted strategy to address the escalating opioid overdose crisis.

According to Matt Turner, harm reduction co-ordinator at the Gilbert Centre, Barrie currently ranks third in cities with a population of 100,000 or more when it comes to overdoses. That amounts to 136.3 overdoses per 100,000 individuals.

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Turner says Barrie has seen an 85 per cent increase in the number of overdoses since 2016, and the overdose rate in the city is now three times the provincial average.

“These numbers are trending up, and there is no sign of a decline in numbers,” Turner told council.

READ MORE: Barrie overdose prevention site application under review by ministry

Turner says enhancing harm-reduction programming such as establishing an overdose prevention site is essential to save lives. “We are losing a lot of folks in our community to overdoses and we are trying to prevent further overdoses and prevent more fatalities,” he said.

Overdose prevention sites offer supervised injection and are equipped with naloxone, harm-reduction supplies and safe disposal materials.

The temporary sites act as a preliminary step to having a more permanent safe injection site established within a community. If statistics show the overdose prevention site is being utilized, they may be replaced with a more permanent safe injection site.

READ MORE: Nearly 4,000 Canadians died of opioid overdoses in 2017, a new record

However, some councillors expressed concerns regarding a possible site in Barrie.

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Coun. Sergio Morales was critical of the approach taken by the Gilbert Centre and the Simcoe County Branch of the CMHA to file the application before consulting council. “It seems like this was an ‘act and ask for forgiveness after’ situation,” he said, noting many constituents felt the application was filed in a deliberate move to circumvent the public consultation process.

Turner said the opioid crisis in the city was becoming so dire it required quick action, and noted that a meeting was scheduled with Barrie’s Mayor Jeff Lehman before the application was submitted, but had been rescheduled to a later date by Lehman.

Coun. Arif Khan also expressed concerns about the site, saying more emphasis should be put on providing vulnerable people with treatment options. “I don’t think in isolation, I’m not sure that the safe injection site alone is going to have the long-term lasting impact that we as a community would hope for. I think that involves treatment,” Khan said.

However, Turner maintained that the overdose prevention site is just one part of a multi-tiered program to aid drug users. “We are treating folks for addiction, but we are trying to keep them alive to get to treatment.” Turner noted the strategy involves prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement.

The application was submitted to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care on April 10. Turner told councillors that as of June 18, he had received no word from the province regarding the application.

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In May, the ministry told Global News the application was still under review.

According to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care website, the ministry is supposed to provide applicants with a decision within 14 days of receiving a completed application.

Now, more than two months later, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care says they are unable to comment about the current status of the application.

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