A month after Ontario’s first approved temporary overdose prevention site opened in London, Peterborough is also planning to open a site in response to the growing opioid crisis.
Community-based agency PARN announced plans today (March 6) to expand its existing harm reduction services to provide people who use opioids with a space where they can use those drugs under the supervision of health professionals to prevent overdose deaths. The temporary overdose prevention site is intended to operate for three to six months.
Peterborough had the fourth highest annual rate of opioid-related deaths between July 2013 and June 2016, and ranked third highest in the number of opioid poisoning hospitalizations in Ontario in 2016/17. In 2017, 20 people are suspected to have died from opioid overdoses in Peterborough.
“The opioid crisis is far from over,” says PARN Executive Director Kim Dolan. “In our community, we will likely see more overdoses in the coming year and, sadly, more deaths than we have ever seen.
“This complex crisis is a call to action. With leadership from both the provincial and federal governments, we have an opportunity to immediately respond to the opioid crisis and save lives.”
In December 2017, Health Canada issued an exemption to Ontario to establish temporary overdose prevention sites across the province. In January 2018, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care began accepting applications and providing funding for approved temporary overdose prevention sites.
“It is clear that this crisis is a concern for everyone in our community,” says Peterborough MPP Jeff Leal. “I am proud that PARN is taking the lead and expanding their services to include a temporary overdose prevention site. This site will provide necessary health services that are accessible and free of stigma that will help save lives.”
PARN is collaborating with community partners and people who use injection drugs to identify a location for temporary overdose prevention site. Once a location is found, an application will be submitted to the Government of Ontario for funding. The approval process takes approximately two weeks. Community information sessions will be scheduled once a location has been identified.
Temporary overdose prevention sites provide supervised injection, harm reduction supplies (including safe disposal of used supplies), and naloxone — a medication used to block the effects of opioids, especially in overdose. Peterborough’s proposed site will also provide referrals to social and health services.
Research shows that services offering supervised drug consumption decrease the number of overdose deaths and reduce both the use of drugs and discarded equipment in public spaces.
“They have also been found to be cost effective and do not increase crime in the area around the service,” says Dr. Rosana Salvaterra, Medical Officer of Health with Peterborough Public Health.
“Peterborough has experienced increasing rates of overdoses and related harms and we have an opportunity to take advantage of provincial funding and policy to offer a temporary overdose prevention site as one more important harm reduction strategy to help us reach the people at greatest risk.”
VIDEO: Tour of the first temporary overdose prevention site in London
Since Ontario’s first approved temporary overdose prevention site opened in London, more than 300 visits have been made to that site and two people were resuscitated at the site after overdosing on fentanyl. That site has received around $130,000 in provincial funding.
The Peterborough Police Service supports the opening of a temporary overdose prevention site for harm reduction.
“We have seen firsthand the devastating impact and tragedy that opioids, and more recently fentanyl, has had on our community in recent years,” says Police Chief Murray Rodd. “We cannot arrest our way out of this health crisis. Our service remains focused on those who profit from the illicit drug trade and not those who are victims of it.
“Until we can discover ways to get at the root cause of the issue, community agencies will continue to work together and support the cause of providing safe spaces that have a medical intervention component for those with addictions.”
In collaboration with Peterborough Public Health and the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit, PARN has been the lead agency providing harm reduction services in the four counties since 2000. Through a partnership with Lakeridge Health’s Positive Care Clinic, PARN has augmented its harm reduction program by providing on-site testing for HIV and other blood-borne and sexually transmitted infections.
“Health care service providers and community agencies are working together to access the provincial health care system’s new temporary overdose prevention site program,” says Peterborough Mayor Daryl Bennett.
“Through their collaboration and dedication, they are responding to the opioid crisis that’s affecting individuals and families in Peterborough and in communities throughout Ontario. They are helping to save lives, prevent illness, and connect people who use substances with services that can assist them.”
In addition to sanctioning temporary overdose prevention sites, Ontario is investing more than $222 million to combat the opioid crisis in Ontario, including expanding harm reduction services, hiring more front-line staff, and improving access to addictions supports across the province.