Barrie city councillors push for additional assistance in battling opioid crisis

Outside entrance to Barrie City Hall.
Outside entrance to Barrie City Hall. Nick Westoll / File / Global News

At a general committee meeting Monday evening, Barrie city councillors Natalie Harris and Keenan Aylwin put forward a motion to seek additional assistance from the provincial and federal governments to battle the ongoing opioid crisis.

The motion put forward called upon the city to declare a local health emergency in regards to the opioid overdose crisis.

The city currently has the third-highest rate of opioid overdose emergency hospital visits among large municipalities in the province.

The motion calls for the city of Barrie to seek additional funding from the federal and provincial governments to support, enhance and expand evidence-based treatment and rehabilitation services, addiction prevention and education and harm reduction measures.

The motion also calls for federal and provincial funding to address the root causes of addiction, such as housing, poverty, unemployment, mental illness and trauma.

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“Only when there is a comprehensive and coordinated response will we get a handle on this emergency,” Harris said.

The motion would also have the city seek federal and provincial funding to address illicit drug supply, production and distribution.

READ MORE: ‘It’s murder’: How lethal opioids devastated a small region of Ontario

On Monday, Member of Parliament for Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte, Alex Nuttall, issued a letter in support of the motion.

“This national strategy must include partnership with all levels of government to provide the resources necessary to prevent more tragic overdose deaths,” the letter reads.

READ MORE: Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit issues public service announcement after spike in local drug overdoses

The motion comes just weeks after the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) issued a public service announcement warning the public of a spike in the number of drug overdoses in the region.

According to the SMDHU, in the first 10 days of February, there were 28 visits to the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre’s emergency department for suspected drug overdoses.

Health officials say this is roughly twice the recent averages seen at the facility.

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“The urgency of this is so clear. I mean, we’ve seen it from the spike in numbers,” Mayor Jeff Lehman said. “I think we all recognize the severity of the issue.”

READ MORE: Online survey seeks community feedback about proposed supervised consumption site in Barrie

Currently, an application is underway for a supervised consumption site (SCS) in Barrie, as one part of the Simcoe Muskoka Opioid Strategy’s (SMOS) multi-pillar action plan to address the growing opioid crisis within the community.

Last week, an online survey was launched which allows residents to share their thoughts regarding an SCS in the city.

The SMOS strategy outlines a plan to address the opioid crisis through prevention, treatment and clinical practice, harm reduction, enforcement and emergency management.

READ MORE: Simcoe Muskoka Opioid Strategy releases plan to address growing opioid overdose crisis

After a lengthy debate Monday evening, councillors voted unanimously in favour of an amended version of the motion which stopped short of declaring a local public health emergency.

If it is ratified at next Monday’s council meeting, city staff will be directed to report back with more information about what it would mean if the city declared a local health emergency regarding the opioid crisis.

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“What we really need is people, and money to support those people, to deliver the services that will work to help people get off of opioids and save lives,” Lehman said.

An amendment was also made to the motion which would request written responses from both the provincial and federal ministers of health within three week’s time.

“I don’t have any problem with us pushing very, very hard to say what’s being done, and show us what you’re doing to help us combat this crisis,” Lehman said.

The motion will go before council on March 4.