St. Catharines home to first supervised consumption site in Niagara region

At the beginning of December St. Catharines opened the first supervised consumption site in Niagara and the site's manager says it has already reversed seven overdoses.

Since opening Dec. 3 the site has reversed 7 overdoses

At the beginning of December St. Catharines opened the first supervised consumption site in the region and the site's manager says it has already reversed seven overdoses. (Talia Storm)

Since opening its doors a month ago, the first supervised consumption site in St. Catharines has reversed seven overdoses.

"It is a beautiful thing to be able to offer this service to the clients. They deserve a service like this — a safe place to go with help, if they need it," says manager of StreetWorks Services, Talia Storm.

StreetWorks operates out of Positive Living Niagara located at 120 Queenston Street in St. Catharines. It's the first supervised consumption site in the Niagara region.

Of the seven reversed overdoses, Storm says only one needed the life-saving medication, Naloxone. The others were reversed with oxygen — and none had to go to hospital.

Storm says the services offered by StreetWorks are both needed and welcomed in the area.

"The clients are incredibly appreciative of it and we have received very little pushback in the community. I think people realize what a need we have in this area for a supervised consumption site," said Storm.

New people every day

Storm says StreetWorks is partnering with Niagara Region EMS and have a paramedic on site at all times.

The site is seeing an average of 12 people a day and although there are a lot of regular clients, Storm says staff are seeing new people every day. There have been about 30 to 35 different people altogether at this point, she says.

They've been giving tours of the space when it's quiet so people can get to know the new staff members, the paramedics on site and get to feel more comfortable in the space as well, which has been encouraging people to come in according to Storm. 

The region's statistics show that in the first 11 months of 2018, Niagara Region EMS responded to 465 suspected opioid overdoses

(Niagara Region Public Health)

Approximately 43 per cent of those calls were in St. Catharines while approximately 27 per cent were in Niagara Falls.

In 2017 there were a total of 521 opioid poisoning emergency department visits, 124 hospitalizations, and 74 deaths, according to the data.

"This neighbourhood and our community like many others in Canada has been greatly impacted by fentanyl sweeping the country and we have had a large number of deaths in the past few years," said Storm. "We have lost in the last two years probably well over 200 people, we estimate and those are just folks that we know."

The site received unanimous approval from city council last spring to approach the province for the green light.

Approval from the Liberals was provided before the writ dropped — and the new Conservative government paused the opening while they conducted a review.

Getting the green light 

St. Catharines was one of three sites paused during the transition of governments.

In October the Conservatives announced that a program called Consumption and Treatment Service (CTS) would replace injection sites.

The artwork is part of a large memorial canvas hanging in the space located at 120 Queenston Street in St. Catharines. (Talia Storm)

The permanent program will shift from overdose prevention to a focus on treatment and rehabilitation services. The province says it will fund and rebrand 21 sites.

By the end of October, Storm says plans went into motion and they started hiring staff.

Storm says that they're already seeing a lot of success in terms of case management and referrals.

"We're finding that we're able to provide a lot of case management support and referrals to other services including methadone programs, a lot of wound care, some mental health stuff because folks are in this space and really open and talking to us," said Storm.


About the Author

Laura Clementson is a journalist with CBC News. She can be reached at laura.clementson@cbc.ca. Follow Laura on Twitter @LauraClementson.