Ontario PCs extend funding for temporary overdose prevention site in London

The Ontario Progressive Conservative government has given the green light to funding to keep the doors open at a supervised consumption site in London, Ont.

The site at 186 King Street was set to close on August 15 after being open for 6 months

Supplies at a supervised consumption site at 186 King Street in London, Ont. (Amanda Margison/CBC)

The Ontario Progressive Conservative government has given the green light to continue funding a temporary safe consumption site in London, Ont. less than one week before funding was set to expire.

The Temporary Overdose Prevention Site at 186 King Street, inside Regional HIV/AIDS Connection, was slated to shut down on Wednesday August 15.

During the spring election campaign, Premier Doug Ford said he was opposed to supervised injection and overdose prevention sites, though his party says Ford has since committed to reviewing evidence on the issue. London North Centre MPP Terence Kernaghan raised the issue for the London site at Queen's Park Thursday morning.

"We're left wondering, why is a professional, well-run organization being left in the dark," Kernaghan asked Ford. "Will this government grant a much needed extension for this site?"

Health Minister Christine Elliott maintained the Ministry's position that they are taking a look at the evidence and will make their decision on the future of consumption sites based on what the experts are saying.

"The particular site in London, we are looking at a temporary situation, to extend its time for us to continue with this investigation, and that is what I'm hoping to do within the next few days," said Elliott.

"We don't want them to stop the work while our investigation is ongoing."

Kernaghan​ pressed Elliot for confirmation that the London site will stay open.

"The short answer to the question is 'yes,'" replied Elliott.

The site at 186 King Street has seen over 5,000 people use the services. Seven overdoses have been prevented since it opened on February 12, 2018. Over 90 people have also been referred to community programs to help with addiction, mental illness and recovery.

The entrance to the temporary overdose prevention site at 186 King Street in London, Ont. (Amanda Margison/CBC)

The local health unit responds

Dr. Chris Mackie, medical officer and CEO of the Middlesex London Health Unit (MLHU), told CBC News he welcomed Thursday's announcement.

"I have been hoping and expecting this sort of positive news for some time," said Mackie.

"There's no government that wants to see health care costs spiraling because of an HIV outbreak. It's really important work that's happening here, it's cost effective and it's saving lives."

Mackie said he was surprised that the announcement came so early and was expecting a final decision the day before the exemption was to lapse.

Elliott did not say how long the extended funding would last, but Mackie remains confident the site will ultimately become a permanent fixture in London.

"If this is a government that is going to look seriously at the research evidence, I'm very confident they're going to find this isn't just about saving lives," he said.

"It prevents massive health care costs and improves the neighbourhood where it goes in. There's less injecting in public, less needle waste around -- all the research is there."

Overdose prevention sites are temporary facilities approved by the Province to address an immediate need in a community, while supervised consumption sites — also known as safe consumption or injection sites — are more permanent locations approved by the federal government after a more extensive application process.

In addition to the Temporary Overdose Prevention Site, there are two proposed Supervised Consumption Facilities to be located at 446 York Street and at 241 Simcoe Street inside a London Middlesex Housing Corporation building. The MLHU also has plans for a mobile van that would make stops at identified areas in London.

A Londoner garners local support

Deana Ruston lives steps from the proposed site at 446 York Street. She started an online petition in May in support of the sites, calling them "vital community partners."

"As a resident of the community and a neighbour to the proposed site, I was looking to add my voice to what was being proposed," Ruston told CBC News. "I was hoping to say that I support this and I welcome this."

At the time of publication, the petition had 574 signatures.

Ruston hopes the supervised consumption sites will help the community.

"If we can get people into the doors of the supervised consumption facility and the temporary overdose prevention site, we can provide them access to other supports like addictions care, housing, medical care, and many other services that are at the table."

There is no word on when the Health Ministry's investigation into the supervised consumption sites will conclude.