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Report shows city’s opioid crisis worsening and finds most support supervised consumption sites

Frequency of EMS calls for suspected opioid overdoses more than doubled from 2018 to 2019, while nearly 60% of people consulted said supervised sites would help protect users and the public

The newly released study that favours the creation of a supervised drug consumption site in Sudbury relies on volumes of hard research that fully explores the pros and cons of the idea. 

The 78-page study which was released Monday is authored by Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, the Medical Officer of Health for Public Health Sudbury & Districts, and by Greater Sudbury Police Chief Paul Pedersen. 

The detailed document is the result of 11-months of community consultation and data analysis. 

The report is quick to point out there is a significant concern about the number of opioid addicts and substance abusers in Sudbury, with numbers showing this city ranked 12th in Ontario for opioid emergency room visits in 2018 and seventh in the province for opioid-related deaths.

From 2010 to 2018, the study revealed there were 199 drug-related deaths in the Sudbury area. 

And it's getting worse. The report showed the frequency of EMS calls for suspected opioid overdoses have more than doubled in 2019 over 2018. That's 468 calls last year versus 200 calls in 2018.

So while the report was quick to show the depth of the problem, it also gave fair consideration to community participants who are worried that a supervised drug consumption site is not the best answer, especially since the report favours a centrally located site in the downtown. 

The report noted that some business owners are worried that having a downtown location will attract drug users to hang out downtown, and that in turn might attract more drug dealers. 

Business owners were also quoted as being worried that this would drive customers away from downtown and result in more street crime. It also said customers are worried about violence. 

"Approximately one-third of respondents had concerns that SCS (supervised consumption site) could lead to more drug selling or trafficking in the area, more people who use drugs in the area, more drug use, concerns about property values, community reputation, impact on business, and personal safety," said the document.

The report also revealed that many of those consulted felt that priority should be given to increasing treatment options for addicts with more rehabilitation and detox centres, more counselling for addiction/mental health issues, and referrals to other treatment centres. 

While not sugar-coating the opioid problem, the report also outlined several factors to be considered as benefits to having a safe injection site. 

These included:

  • Less drug use on the streets and in parks.
  • Less risk of injury and death from overdose.
  • Fewer used needles discarded in public areas.
  • Less pressure on police and other first responders who would otherwise be responding to overdose calls. 

The report found that most of the people consulted for study — 59.8 per cent — supported the prospect of supervised consumption sites. Supporters also suggested having the safe site integrated with existing harm-reduction services where drug users might take advantage of offers of assistance and recovery.

The study had input from 190 people who inject drugs (PWID). Of that number ,89 per cent said they would use the supervised site under the watchful eyes of health-care professionals. 

Most of the PWID expressed a willingness to "hang around" for as long as 30 minutes after they injected their drugs to ensure that they would be safe and that their health would be monitored in case of overdose.

The majority of users also said they would be willing to walk to a supervised site or use city transit if necessary. Their first choice was daytime hours (53.9 per cent) with evening hours being the second choice (44.4 per cent).

A minority of users who did not favour the supervised drug site had concerns about anonymity and being identified as an addict, and the possibility of police intervention. 

The report said many stakeholders were aware of supervised sites in other communities and felt that Greater Sudbury could learn from these examples to mitigate potential problems and develop effective programs here.

Some of the mitigation strategies that were discussed included sharing information about supervised sites with community members; evaluating and making changes to remediate any issues; increasing safety in the safe site area, and; having a community advisory group to receive feedback and address concerns.

The idea of having a community advisory group was stated several times. 

The study released this week also quoted and referenced more than 100 other reports and studies from Sudbury, Northern Ontario and across Canada. 

The report is part of a requirement for approval from Greater Sudbury city council and higher levels of government for funding and eventual implementation. 

About the Author: Len Gillis, local journalism initiative reporter

Len Gillis is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at covering health care in northeastern Ontario and the COVID-19 pandemic.
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