Hamilton’s board of health has unanimously supported an application for a second consumption and treatment services (CTS) site in the lower city as the opioid crisis grows even worse.
On Monday, councillors voted 12-0 in favour of the AIDS Network applying to the Ministry of Health for a CTS site that would be located on Barton Street, just east of Sherman Avenue.
Right now, Hamilton only has one permanent safe injection site run by the Hamilton Urban Core Community Health Centre.
It’s expected to move from its Rebecca Street location to a new temporary home on James Street South in December, with a permanent location scheduled to get up and running on Cannon Street East by September 2023, according to a timeline from the city.
The approval for a second CTS site comes as councillors received a staff report about the city’s response to the ongoing opioid crisis, which has become increasingly more deadly during the pandemic.
124 people died from confirmed opioid-related overdoses in Hamilton last year and the city’s death rate is 29 per cent higher than Ontario’s death rate.
So far in 2021, paramedics have responded to 724 suspected opioid overdoses and of those, 109 happened in August.
Ward 3 councillor Nrinder Nann called the numbers “staggering”.
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“It’s not even shocking at this point, it’s just such an indicator of the lack of wellness in some stretches of our community,” said Nann during Monday’s meeting.
Wards 2 and 3 in the lower city have some of the highest overdose activity in Hamilton.
According to the staff report, there were 565 opioid-related paramedic calls in 2020 and of those, 43 per cent were in Ward 2 and 25 per cent were in Ward 3.
Tim McClemont, executive director of the AIDS Network, said community consultation has shown residents in Ward 3 are overwhelmingly supportive of a CTS site, with 83 per cent of respondents to a survey saying that they “strongly agree” with the need for such a site in the community.
He said there’s also strong support among people who use drugs for a site that provides them with wraparound services for things like mental health, addiction, Indigenous-based services, peer programming and housing services.
“We look at the consumption treatment services as an extension of our existing work with people who use drugs,” said McClemont. “It further supports the people in Ward 3 that we’re seeing on our van — which we operate as a collaboration with the city of Hamilton — that may be underserved.”
Nann said it’s “disappointing” that public health was unable to secure a location for a second CTS site, citing what she called the “unwillingness of the private sector” to work with the city.
“We need every player at the table in order for us to deliver from a public perspective,” said Nann. “It was just totally disheartening and completely unacceptable that none of our private industry or private partners for space were willing to come forward, especially given the highest use and highest need location being between Ward 2 with the highest numbers and Ward 3 with the second-highest numbers.”
Ward 9 councillor Brad Clark expressed concern that public health doesn’t have a record of how many of last year’s emergency department visits involved people being treated multiple times for overdoses.
“I’m trying to understand how many individuals in Hamilton are experiencing substance abuse challenges. How many use harm reduction services and how many are referred to treatment and recovery and how many beds are being utilized in the treatment and recovery facilities?”
Staff have been asked to report back with more specifics on how many individuals are being treated through harm reduction, treatment and recovery services.
Hamilton’s drug strategy, which was launched in 2019, was put on hold in March 2020 while public health redirected resources toward the pandemic, but the group behind the strategy is scheduled to meet again next month.
Michelle Baird, director of epidemiology, wellness and communicable disease control division with public health, said the agencies that are part of the drug strategy have been continuing their work, despite gaps in the strategy that have become larger during the pandemic.
“In fact, over the past three to four months, we’ve certainly had our highest numbers of paramedic incidences related to opioid overdoses in the community,” said Baird. “And for us, it is good news that the AIDS network is now in a place to perhaps fill one of those noticed gaps.”