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Harm reduction is about science, compassion, Nurses Assoc. says

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario held a press conference May 10 to highlight their concerns about drug poisonings and the closure of supervised consumption services, like Sudbury’s The Spot. 
Graffiti on the legal graffiti wall in downtown Sudbury in November 2023 raises the issue of the imminent closure of The Spot supervised consumption site due to a lack of funding. The site closed at the end of March due to lack of funding. The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario held a press conference May 10 to highlight their concerns about drug poisonings and the closure of supervised consumption services, like Sudbury’s The Spot. 

As a finale to Nursing Week, May 6-12, the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO) held a province-wide press conference speaking to the depths of the opioid crisis, taking 10 Ontarians every day in what RNAO president Claudette Halloway calls “preventable deaths.”

“Nursing Week is a time of celebration, a time to thank and honor nurses for their hard work, their clinical knowledge, that dedication and compassion or a mandate is speaking out for nursing and speaking out for help,” said Holloway. “That's why we're gathered here today, to raise our voices on an issue that continues to claim lives, and for which we need the government to act in an urgent matter.”

Held virtually on May 10, the press conference featured RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun, Kathy Moreland, registered nurse and representative of Moms Stop the Harm, as well as two speakers from Sudbury: Registered nurse, Neil Stephens and Marie Pollock co-founder of STOPs, a driving force behind Sudbury’s supervised consumption site.

The Spot was forced to close at the end of March due to lack of provincial funding, despite applying for it more than two years previous. 

At the presser, Moreland spoke of the impetus for her harm-reduction program advocacy and her support of supervised consumption sites: the death of her son. 

At 17, he was addicted and tried to stop using on his own. After a month of avoiding it, Moreland said her son and his 16-year-old girlfriend decided to use drugs the night of his high school graduation. 

“The following morning, I found him unresponsive with no vital signs in his room. He survived on life support for two more days, but never regained consciousness: he died of fentanyl poisoning,” she said. “Unfortunately, his girlfriend died two weeks later in her home. And to my knowledge, four of his friends have also died under similar circumstances, all of them in their teens.”

Since that time, she said she’s become “a stalwart advocate” for comprehensive harm reduction approaches. 

To her, a comprehensive approach to reduce preventable death would include addressing mental health support, providing affordable housing and jobs, preventing childhood trauma, supporting the frontline workers who support them, establishing safe consumption services, decriminalization of possession, a safe supply, and most importantly, accessible, affordable and evidence informed treatment. 

“People need to realize that the drugs that are currently being sold on our streets are more toxic than anything we have seen before,” she said. “Treatment is not easily accessible for those wanting it and addiction is not a choice.”

Stephen spoke to his experiences working in harm reduction in Sudbury. 

“There is an incredible amount of disinformation out there when it comes to what harm reduction is and what it is we're out there trying to do,” said Stephen. 

Though there is a push for safe supply from some harm-reduction advocates, particularly in light of the types of adulterants being added to substances, that is not something that is offered at supervised consumption sites. These sites simply allow substance users to inject substances they obtain themselves under the careful eye of medical staff to ensure any potential overdose is stopped immediately. 

As part of this, supplies like needles, sanitized water and drug-testing services can be offered, and with frequent visits, staff are able to build relationships with those who want to make changes in their life, and often help with housing and healthcare referrals. 

Not only that, but “there is actually an immense amount of work and research that has gone into harm reduction,” he said, noting the first supervised consumption site opened in Europe 40 years ago.  “Since that time, there has never been a single fatality anywhere in the world from a safe consumption site.” 

He said even the work that went into getting The Spot open in Sudbury “took years of research and work,” including studies, best practices and community proposals.  

“We know that harm reduction in general decreases infection, decreases fatalities, decreases blood borne viruses and illnesses that can be transmitted,” said Stephen. “But one of the major hurdles that we're trying to address when it comes to harm reduction is just tackling that stigma discrimination and a lot of that disinformation.” 

Part of that discrimination and prejudice he said, is the belief that this is only a problem for the homeless. A new report from the Office of the Chief Coroner, Dirk Huyer, shows that between 2018 and 2023, the majority of opioid toxicity deaths occur in those who live in private residences. 

“Everybody is at risk of overdose, it’s not just the homeless population,” said Stephen.  

He said his greatest concern is moving away from evidence-based practice “to follow more popular opinion.” 

“We're supposed to follow the science, follow the evidence and not just make stuff up and hope it works,” said Stephen, noting that even from a fiscal perspective, harm-reduction can be effective. “For every dollar we spend on harm reduction, we actually end up saving about $5 to $8 in the background, whether that's emergency services, hospital expenditures, taxpayer expenditures, or the criminal justice system.”

He said it’s not just about a place for people to use substances under the supervision of a healthcare professional, but we're also reconnecting the community and people who use drugs, with health care providers with the community with peer workers, social workers, we can access housing and we can access social support services.”

A call to action was then issued by the RNAO. They are calling for the province to:

  1. Immediately provide funding to reopen the supervised consumption sites (SCS) in Windsor and Sudbury
  2. Immediately provide funding to keep the SCS open in Timmins
  3. Expedite approvals process for all outstanding consumption and treatment service (CTS) site applications
  4. Fund SCS for every community in need in the province. 

“We do need the government to step in because they are failing to live up to their promises to open and fund our safe consumption site,” said Stephen. “It has unfortunately damaged the credibility of harm reduction workers in the community. Because we promised people who use drugs that we would be there for them. And because of the government's inaction, they broke our promises.”

Jenny Lamothe covers vulnerable and marginalized populations for 

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Jenny Lamothe

About the Author: Jenny Lamothe

Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with She covers the diverse communities of Sudbury, especially the vulnerable or marginalized.
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