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Volunteer-run consumption site that was supposed to be temporary is turning two years old

Sudbury Temporary Overdose Prevention calls for permanent site, public health emergency declaration as region’s overdose death rate climbs to the highest in the province per capita
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Sudbury Temporary Overdose Prevention Society (STOPS) included temporary in their name for a reason. Now, with their two-year anniversary upcoming, the founders and volunteers are calling for a permanent solution.

A statement issued by the group recently states the opioid crisis has taken four times as many lives of Sudburians than that of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the death toll from opioid overdoses in Sudbury doubled from 2019 to 2020. 

The City of Greater Sudbury now holds the dubious distinction of having the highest death rate, per capita, in the entire province

STOP is asking for the community’s help with a three-pronged approach. They want the province to accept the STOPS supervised site application while a permanent site is located or built. They’re asking Mayor Brian Bigger to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency in Sudbury in order to escalate the city’s response. And, they are also raising funds through a GoFundMe, with a goal of $5,000, to keep their work going in the meantime. More than $2,000 has been raised so far.

“This was never intended to be a long-term solution,” says Karla Ghartey, a founder and volunteer with STOPS. “We are tired. We are frustrated. We are sad. We get strength from each other, we get strength from our community members. There is  a lot of hopelessness right now. There's a lot of despair. There's a lot of death.” 

Statistics reveal that Sudbury is in desperate need for a solution. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the number of opioid-related deaths in Ontario has risen by 60 per cent. (Advocates also point out that these numbers do not include deaths by overdose in the prison system.) 

And since May 2019, the STOPS pop-up clinic has had nearly 300 visitors and has reversed 14 overdoses. It could be said that some of those 300 visitors could have had issues if not for the prevention aspects of the temporary overdose prevention society.

Made up of volunteers who have lived experience as well as medical professionals and people who care, STOPs offers a place for those who use drugs to do so in a safe and supervised location. Not only would this put them in a position to receive medical care if the need arises, but at the same time, it provides a support system. 

STOPS volunteers are covering all expenses themselves, including, at one point, the personal protective equipment that they required.

The outreach and direct support offered by STOP is client-led, meeting people at their level, and  in line with the evidence-based approaches, Ghartey said. 

“These supervised consumption services keep people alive, they save people's lives when things are just so bad, so in crisis.” 

The evidence behind the design of supervised consumption sites is clear. 

In a meta-study of the available information pointing to the effectiveness of supervised consumption as a method of overdose prevention, the authors found the “best evidence from cohort and modeling studies suggests that SISs (Supervised Injection Sites) are associated with lower overdose mortality (88 fewer overdose deaths per 100 000 person-years [PYs]), 67 per cent fewer ambulance calls for treating overdoses, and a decrease in HIV infections.”

Referred to as Supervised Consumption Sites (SCS) by the Canadian government and defined as “facilities where people can consume pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of trained staff. SCS provide people who use drugs with a safe, non-judgemental environment, sterile consumption equipment, and services that include social, medical and mental health care. The main goals of SCS are to help prevent overdose deaths, facilitate entry into addiction treatment programs, reduce the spread of bloodborne infections (e.g., HIV, hepatitis C), and reduce the strain on emergency medical services.”

Their success is clear as well. Canadian sites had approximately two million visits between 2017 and 2019. With 39 sites operating as of early 2020, it is estimated that 3,000 visits take place each day, and the busiest locations see closer to 500 visits. 

At the SCS, in that time period, there have been 15,000 overdoses and medical emergencies, but no reported fatalities on site. 

It is both a revolutionary and long-standing concept — the aspects of reducing one’s ability to harm themselves while the systems designed to help them are created, or reconfigured. As the social systems of the country move to understanding systemic inaccessibility, that inability to access the resources you need simply because of who you are or your station in life, Ghartey says there is a need for this crisis response, but also, to pursue a long-term solution. 

“It is not just harm reduction,” she said. “But supportive mental health services, supportive housing,  addiction and substance use.” 

Ghartey says the cycle of poverty and addiction has a great deal to do with, “the social determinants of health, including poverty, and income and education. And it has a lot to do with gender and race and a lot of different components, so we need the support from the ground up.” 

In terms of the long-term solution, that comes down to transitional and affordable housing. 

“That has to come at the municipal, provincial and federal levels,” said Ghartey.

If you would like to contribute to the groups efforts, you can find their GoFundMe here, or visit them on Facebook for more information.