The federal government is providing $200,000 to help launch a safe supply drug project in Peterborough to address the region’s increase in opioid overdose deaths.
On Monday, Peterborough-Kawartha MP Maryam Monsef announced that over the next 27 months a safe supply project will be run in the city, providing a pharmaceutical alternative to the toxic illegal drug supply and helping prevent overdoses. The project is being funding by Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program. The cost of medication for participants on the pilot program is covered by provincial drug plan benefits.
As of early May, there have been 20 suspected opioid-related deaths so far in 2021 in the Peterborough area. In 2020, opioid-related emergency room visits in Peterborough were nearly double that of the provincial average.
“Just like many communities across Canada, Peterborough has suffered tragic losses due to the overdose crisis,” said Monsef. “The Government of Canada is proud to support projects like this one that will help expand the services and treatments available for those at risk of overdose in communities like Peterborough.”
The initiative will pilot the use of a nurse practitioner to deliver safer drug supply to 10 patients in Peterborough. The project is being led by the Peterborough 360 Degree Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinic (NPLC), which focuses on accessible health-care for marginalized individuals, in partnership with Trent University/Fleming College School of Nursing.
360 Degree executive director Suzanne Galloway says the project is another tool to help reduce the “tragic impact of opioid poisonings from the illegal drug supply in the community.”
She says the first phase of the project will include research from August to December involving prescribers, pharmacists, addictions treatment providers, harm-eduction professionals and people who use drugs to help develop a model of safer supply that can work for Peterborough.
That will be followed in 2022 with a “small-scale” eight- to 10-month pilot project in 2022 involving a “heavy evaluation” component, said Galloway.
The 10 participants will receive an “opioid-replacement therapy” such as a pharmaceutical-grade opioid, says Galloway, to replace the fentanyl from the street-acquired supply they have been relying on. Individuals will work on their goals — whether it’s to eliminate drug use completely or reduce use.
There will be no physical clinic per se, but it will be a part of the individuals’ primary health care. The pilot also aims to create a long-term sustainable model — and possibly scale up the model, said Galloway.
“We will be reviewing the outcomes of the participants, the providers and the community to refine our local approach,” Galloway said. “And share our knowledge of how the promising practice of safer supply projects might be offered in other small communities across Canada.”
The project will also study what wraparound supports can be created for the individuals, such as housing, counselling and a potential safe consumption site in the city.
“We intend to have a pretty strong peer-support element as well to access social services,” said Galloway. “Our clinic’s vision is a community where all people have access to high-quality primary healthcare and an equal opportunity to be healthy. Safer Supply is one of the ways that we can reach this vision.”
Kathy Hardill, lead/clinical direction at 360 Degree, says the project will engage with individuals at “high risk” to enable comprehensive provision of primary care.
“The aspiration of the project is to create a community-wide, community practice for safe supply prescribing,” she said. “These 10 individuals may be patients of the clinic or the broader primary care community. We look forward to creating those collaborations and partnerships.”
On behalf of Mayor Diane Therrien, city Coun. Andrew Beamer thanked the federal government for its leadership and funding to help address the opioid crisis, which he says has devastated many families in the community.
“So my families have been devastated by this — it’s heartbreaking,” he said. “This funding and support will go a long way to support the community. It will go a long way to support the health and the well-being of individuals and families. And it will save lives.”
Peterborough Police Service Chief Scott Gilbert says the service is happy to be a partner in the project.
“The Safer Supply Project will be another tool in the toolbox for assisting community members with addictions,” he said.
Monsef says while there may be critics of the safe supply project, she says the government is following evidence and calls from families of victims and those overcoming addictions.
“Our approach will be compassionate, it will be based on evidence and we will trust community leaders to lead,” she said. “The goal here is to save lives.”
— More to come.