Health Canada has conditionally approved a plan for a supervised drug consumption and treatment services (CTS) site in downtown Peterborough, officials announced Tuesday.
Aiming to operate out of the former Greyhound bus station at 220 Simcoe St., the site will provide a safe, hygienic space for people to use drugs under the supervision of health professionals to prevent opioid poisoning deaths.
Led by Fourcast, in collaboration with PARN — Your Community AIDS Resource Network and the Peterborough 360 Degree Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinic, the federal exemption to allow the use of illegal drugs is conditional on a site visit and proof of funding. PARN relocated its Harm Reduction Works program to the building shortly after it opened in October 2020.
The groups say they have a goal of $160,000 and already $25,000 has been raised to host the CTS.
As a result, officials said Tuesday fundraising is underway to renovate the former bus station in anticipation of provincial funding approval to operate the facility. The groups are partnering with the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough (CFGP) to help facilitate donations from the public.
The public can donate to the project at the CFGP’s site https://cfgp.ca/project/cts-fund
“We are renovating now so the CTS can start saving lives as quickly as possible,” said Fourcast’s executive director, Donna Rogers.
“With the exemption in hand, we’re confident our application meets all the provincial requirements to get ongoing operational funding. With our community’s financial help, we can be better prepared for opening within a shorter timeline.”
As of May 3 of this year, there have been 20 suspected opioid deaths in Peterborough Public Health’s jurisdiction of Peterborough, Peterborough County, Hiawatha First Nation and Curve Lake First Nation.
“We see every day the devastation that the opioid crisis has brought to Peterborough,” said Dane Record, PARN’s interim executive director.
“There are already 20 people who are suspected to have lost their lives this year alone, and 20 families who will never see their loved one again. Consumption Treatment Services sites have proven to prevent overdoses and save lives in communities where they operate. It’s clear that we need to get Peterborough’s site up and running as soon as possible.”
Peterborough Public Health, which helped with the application process to operate a site under Section 56.1 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA), says the site will have a “life-saving” impact in the community.
“Amidst the mounting harms of the opioid crisis, there is an urgent and critical need for the compassionate, evidence-based health and social supports that this facility will provide,” said medical officer of health Dr. Rosana Salvaterra. “I’m pleased to see the CTS gain momentum and the growing awareness that a public health approach to substance use is essential to building a safer community for everyone.”
Peterborough is one of three Ontario locations that were seeking the CDSA exemption.
“Health Canada’s review for an exemption is very rigorous,” said Suzanne Galloway, executive director of the Peterborough 360 Degree. “This conditional approval shows that we’ve met the high standards required to operate a CTS in terms of safety, client service and community partnership.”
The Peterborough Regional Health Centre reports it sees some of the highest rates in Ontario for opioid-related emergency department visits — more than double the provincial average.
“Research has shown that consumption and treatment sites can be more welcoming environments for people struggling with substance use, providing access to key education, treatment, supports and resources that help to reduce harm, which in turn reduces the need for emergency healthcare,” said Brenda Weir, PRCH’s executive vice-president and chief nursing executive. “We look forward to continuing to work with our partners in the community as this important project continues to take shape in the months ahead.”
Peterborough Mayor Diane Therrien congratulated the efforts to achieve federal approval for the CTS.
“CTS sites provide critical wrap-around services that connect people who use drugs to primary care, treatment, and other health and social services,” she said. “Research shows that safe consumption sites help prevent the transmission of infectious disease, encourage marginalized people to access health care services, including primary care and addiction treatment, and bring stability to communities by improving public order and reducing the number of injections taking place on the street.”
Peterborough police and paramedics also applaud the approval, noting it will be an important addition to existing services for opioid treatment.
“The Peterborough Police Service is happy that our community partners are now closer than ever to making a CTS in Peterborough a reality,” said police chief Scott Gilbert. “This will be an important addition to existing services providing much-needed service and paths to treatment for those with substance use disorder. We will continue to support our partners in this project going forward and hope they can achieve all of their fundraising goals.”
Added Craig Jones, Peterborough County/City Paramedics commander of emergency management and operational support: “We’re committed to doing everything we can to contribute to the collaborative response necessary to confront one of the biggest public health threats facing Canada. To give it context, the number of overdose incidents we responded to in May alone was double the average of the previous four months. As opioid deaths continue to mount in our community, there is a clear need for strategies that ensure paramedics can support individuals in crisis.”
Peterborough-Kawartha MP Maryam Monsef said the federal government has approved more than three dozen supervised consumption sites that have been visited more than 2.2 million times, reversed more than 17,000 overdoses, and made more than 85,000 referrals to health and social services.
“As we see the COVID-19 outbreak worsening the situation for Canadians struggling with substance use disorders, it is more important than ever to ensure support is available,” Monsef said. “The evidence is clear — these sites save lives.”
— More to come