Future of London’s overdose prevention site expected to be decided this weekend

An injection kit at London's temporary overdose prevention site, pictured on Feb 12th, 2017.
An injection kit at London's temporary overdose prevention site, pictured on Feb 12th, 2017. Liny Lamberink / 980 CFPL

The provincial government is expected to announce its decision about supervised consumption facilities this weekend, and the fate of London’s temporary site hangs in the balance.

“The evidence speaks for itself,” said Sonja Burke. She’s the director of counterpoint harm reduction services at the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection (RHAC) in London, inside which the temporary overdose prevention site (TOPS) exists.

Its provincial funding runs out Sunday, the same day Premier Doug Ford and Deputy Premier and Health Minister Christine Elliott are expected to shed light on a months-long consultation that was launched after the election. Ford had originally campaigned against supervised consumption, favouring rehabilitation instead.

READ MORE: Here’s what people who use drugs in London have to say to Doug Ford about supervised consumption

Burke is unsure where the province is going to land on the issue, noting they could say no to temporary sites and yes to permanent sites, yes to both, or no to both.

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“Unfortunately Regional HIV/AIDS Connection cannot run an unsanctioned site, but I do believe in this community and I do believe this community will mobilize and do what it needs to do to make sure people are not dying.”

About 2,000 people have visited London’s TOPS, which has been visited 8,000 times. Staff have reversed 37 overdoses since opening in mid-February.

READ MORE: How a handful of pharmacists flooded Ontario’s streets with lethal fentanyl amid a national opioid crisis

“Worldwide evidence shows these services work. We know that Christine Elliot has been gathering that evidence,” said Burke.

One of the places the province has been gathering evidence is from London’s TOPS itself, she explained.

“We work very hard and diligently … to make sure they have everything they need to make a good decision on these services, which would be to support them.”

When Burke leads tours of the site, housed inside RHAC at 186 King St., “99 per cent of the time” people are surprised by what they see.

“The comments are always, ‘this is not what I thought it would be,'” said Burke, noting that direct health care and individual support are amongst things people touring the facility don’t expect.

READ MORE: Drug user says ‘blood is on their hands’ regarding Doug Ford government’s ‘pause’ on safe injection sites

Since opening more than six months ago, Burke said even some of the staff have been surprised by what they’ve seen.

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“We can’t even believe the level of intimacy and connection that has occurred within this service, how people are wrapping around each other, how people are being heard for the first time, how people are being validated in the trauma that they’ve experienced which has led them to where they are.”

“Even we have been humbled by this experience.”

Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Christine Elliott was in London on Friday morning for the official unveiling of a new headquarters for the Middlesex-London Paramedic Service but left without taking questions from the media.

In a statement released late Friday afternoon, Elliott announced that she is “now in the process of finalizing my recommendations.”

She adds that they’re officially asking the federal government to extend Ontario’s class exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA).

With files from 980 CFPL’s Jacquelyn LeBel.

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