A look inside Carepoint, London, Ont.’s permanent consumption and treatment site

The permanent Carepoint Consumption and Service site at 446 York St. in London, Ont. Andrew Graham / Global News

Doors are nearly open at London’s first permanent consumption and treatment site and as staff add the finishing touches, the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection (RHAC) is offering the public a glimpse inside Carepoint Consumption and Treatment Service.

The site will provide people with a space to use drugs safely and seek services for recovery.

A temporary version of Carepoint, previously named the Temporary Overdose Prevention Site, opened at 186 King St. in 2018 before moving to 446 York St. last year, where the permanent site also resides.

From February 2018 to December 2022, the temporary version of Carepoint reversed more than 713 overdoses, according to RHAC. That timeframe saw nearly 15,000 visits with more than 1,000 unique clients served. RHAC says the temporary version of Carepoint also provided more than 21,500 referrals to various services, including addiction support, housing and basic needs, medical care and mental health.

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With a focus on responding to addictions and providing wraparound services, the site also looks to serve as a local mitigating effort against the opioid crisis.

Carepoint’s 3,600-square-foot facility is a massive upscale from its temporary counterpart, which was most recently operating out of a single trailer in the parking lot of 446 York St.

The interior prominently features the colours purple and silver to match Carepoint’s logo. Those colours are symbols of overdose awareness and International Overdose Awareness Day, which falls on Aug. 31.

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The Counterpoint Needle and Syringe program, which allows folks to drop off used needles and syringes in exchange for clean ones at no cost, is integrated inside and located just to the right of the facility’s entrance. Right next door is a room that staff say will provide wraparound care and various kits for visitors, including condom kits, wound care kits and safer inhalation kits.

Besides that is the intake room for visitors.

Some final renovations still need to be made, but work is nearly finished on Carepoint’s consumption and aftercare room, which share the same space.

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The consumption area is served by several range hoods attached to the ceiling, which are intended to ventilate out any toxic fumes resulting from consumption. Staff say one of these range hoods will be divided by a partition once renovations are complete, to allow for a private consumption booth.

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Two of the range hoods sit on tables with multiple seats, and while those tables were wooden during a tour of the site on Wednesday, staff say those tables will be replaced by stainless steel ones once Carepoint opens.

The consumption room is sectioned off with consumption booths. There’s enough capacity to have eight consumption booths running at once, but due to staffing constraints, only six will be operating when the site opens next week.

Just a few steps away is an aftercare room to treat those in need following consumption.

Another highly touted feature of the site is the presence of a fully stocked clinic space, which comes equipped with a vaccine fridge.

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Various service providers will lend help to the site and the London InterCommunity Health Centre has been tasked with providing nursing and medical care to the clinic space.

The recently renewed HOME Program will also be parked right outside. The program is an outreach initiative that looks to provide health services directly to clients by meeting them where they are, be it shelters, encampments, housing or other community settings.

Seen throughout the site are various images accompanied by quotes from anonymous Carepoint clients.

These images and words are the results of Beyond Enduring, a study carried out by the Middlesex-London Health Unit and Western University’s Centre for Research on Health Equity and Social Inclusion.

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The study asked participants to answer how the temporary version of Carepoint has changed their lives and to provide a photo to accompany their answer.

The images and words now serve as a source of pride and motivation for staff at Carepoint.

One of several displays from the Beyond Enduring study hung up inside the walls of Carepoint’s permanent facility. Andrew Graham / Global News

Sonja Burke, RHAC’s director of harm reduction, says Carepoint’s strength is found in its integrated model for providing care, which prevents visitors from having to travel to various locations for various services.

“Nothing stands alone. Just having a supervised consumption facility, just having a needle and syringe program, it’s not enough. The wraparound services, the clinic, all those pieces are critical to full health care,” Burke said.

“Addiction is very complex, it’s not a simple answer and if we could fix it as a society, I think we would’ve, so we need to stop, regroup and understand that we have to think outside of the box.”

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Mayor Josh Morgan, who highlighted combating homelessness as a top priority in his state of the city address last month, toured the site on Wednesday and says he was impressed with what he saw.

“This is a model for others to follow and it integrates very well with the work that we’re doing on health and homelessness in the city. The design of a hub-based system integrating with health-care facilities like this is going to be critical to providing people the supports they need,” Morgan said.

Dr. Alex Summers, the MLHU’s medical officer of health, had similar praise for the site during a tour on Wednesday.

The MLHU was essential to getting Carepoint off the ground and was responsible for striking a deal in 2018 that allowed it to be built on 446 York St.

Last year, the MLHU found the region had experienced a sharp rise in opioid-related deaths and hospital visits during the pandemic.

“Opioids continue to have a significant negative impact in our community, the toxic drug supply continues to lead to deaths in our community,” Summers said.

“And services like this one need to not only be strengthened, but likely expanded in order to ensure that our community receives the support that they need.”

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Burke says Carepoint’s doors will have a soft opening on Monday to give participants and staff time to explore the facility.

Doors will officially open on Tuesday.

From there, the site will stay open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., with its last intake taking place every day at 8 p.m.

Other renovations on the site will continue through the spring.

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