(Part 2 of a series looking at the opioid crisis in Ontario)
A self-proclaimed drug addict in Peterborough says a safe injection site is desperately needed in the city to address a growing opioid crisis.
“I think it’s more than an emergency — it’s a crisis and it’s just getting bigger and bigger,” said Chad Corley.
Corley’s addictions started when he was a teen. He turned to booze following an alleged sexual assault. Eventually, he started using hard drugs like heroin and opioids.
“I was trying to escape that reality or realm where you are just trying to forget. Forget what’s happened to you,” he said.
Corley contracted hepatitis C by sharing needles and spent nights living on the streets. And he says some mornings he woke up realizing the friend next to him wasn’t going to do the same.
“It got to the point when I was homeless … you know that like the addiction was so powerful … I knew I had to figure out a place where I had to stay,” he said.
“But I wouldn’t worry about it until late late at night because I’ll get one more fix and then I’ll figure it out. But by that time it would be 10, 11 o’clock … in the winter and it’s like where am I sleeping? Which bank is safe? Which hallway is safe? That’s what it came to.”
READ MORE: Peterborough’s safe injection site on hold
Health officials have dealt with 20 fatal overdoses in the last year. Corley believes a safe injection site would help.
“When you think about that if 20 people died of AIDS next year in Peterborough, or SARS, or pig virus or something else … we would be all over that,” he said.
Peterborough Police Service Deputy Chief Tim Farquharson says if a temporary overdose prevention site opens, police will stay away.
“Unless there is a huge human cry from the community, we would not get involved,” he said.
“I’m being honest with you — we wouldn’t be asking our officers to take that down … the reason that is what is the motive for them to be up? It’s nothing criminal, there could be trespass to property act something like that but these people are trying to save people’s lives.”
Mayor Daryl Bennett says Peterborough was the first community in Ontario to purchase naloxone kits for emergency workers and has a four-pillar drug strategy in place to address opioid use.
“I don’t think that we are dealing with it as well as we should be but again it’s the province that really needs to step up and say what they want done to really help the problem,” said Bennett.
So far, the province has not reached out to Peterborough medical officer of health, Dr. Rosana Salvaterra, for input.
“I’m hoping that this government will be as responsive as the government that proceeded it,” Salvaterra said.
In a statement, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care says it is reviewing plans for safe injection sites in Ontario.
“Minister (Christine) Elliott is undertaking an evidence-based review, listening to experts, community leaders, community members and individuals who have lived through addiction to ensure that any continuation of drug injection sites introduce people into rehabilitation and ensure those struggling with addiction get the help they need,” the statement reads.
“All of these voices will inform the review and recommendation. In the interim, the ministry has indicated that no new sites should open to the public. We expect this review to conclude in short order and will be making a recommendation on how to proceed.”
Corley says if the province plans to consult before launching drug injection sites, he wants to offer input too.
“If we get enough people and they hear it from a professional side and a side that people that have been there or that are still there that are struggling with what they are going through, yes, I believe they will listen … at least I hope.”