As the region grapples with the ongoing opioid crisis, the Middlesex London Health Unit (MLHU) is about to table a plan to combat the issue on a permanent basis.
The local health agency plans to present its business case for two permanent supervised consumption sites in the city as well as a mobile site.
Officials have been working on the document since before London’s temporary overdose prevention site (TOPS) opened on King Street in February.
According to the health unit, the business case identifies gaps in the current system as well as their impacts.
The case will also show how facilities can help reduce health-care costs, improve neighbourhoods, and generate improved health outcomes, officials said.
“People try to fear-monger about addicts on the street and how they’re going to destroy neighbourhoods,” said Dr. Chris Mackie, the medical officer of health. “That language is not helpful and is not accurate.”
“I think what we’re seeing is a consciousness that the system as it’s currently set up is failing and we have to do things that are different in order to try and wrestle the drug crisis to the ground.”
Much of the research for the model came from other supervised injection facilities around the world, said Mackie.
“We’ve looked closely at the research from other jurisdictions and it’s clear this sort of facility helps neighbourhoods to get injection drug use off the street and reduce needle waste in public,” he said.
“We’ve actually taken 12 steps above the basic model to make absolutely sure we’re going to have positive impacts in the neighbourhood.”
“I’m really confident we’re going to be helping out the neighbourhoods that we go into,” he said.
MLHU received provincial support in the form of letters from the then Liberal minister of health and long-term care detailing capital and operational funding.
The current government, however, has put new sites on hold until it reviews whether supervised consumption sites help addicts get off drugs.
It’s unclear whether the review will affect London’s proposed sites.
The sites will also need federal approval. After that they’ll have to go through the local zoning process.
While Mackie would like to have the current temporary site turn into a permanent location, he said it’s just not feasible.
“The landlord has said no and the agency that’s currently hosting, the regional HIV/AIDS connection, is looking for other accommodations. So, unfortunately it will be moving,” he said.
Although the site will be moving, Mackie said it has been a success, with little negative impact on the community.
“It’s in a residential building and the residents have basically said ‘there’s been no impact, this has been fine for us.’ Same with the businesses that are in that buildings. The woman from the restaurant right in front is much more concerned about other issues downtown,” he said.
“She said the people coming and going from the supervised consumption site have been great,” Mackie said of the temporary location.
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The site sees about 50 to 60 people a day compared to the four they had the first day it opened. In August there were 23 overdoses, compared to just eight in the previous five months.
“It’s all related to what’s available in the black market. We’re seeing fentanyl coming into our market now. It’s very easy to take a tiny bit too much and overdose,” said Mackie.
“[The site] is really making a difference now. This is a critical time to be operating this sort of facility as fentanyl comes into the community,” he said.
The report will be brought before the board of health meeting Thursday evening.
— With files from Jess Brady and Christian D’Avino.
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