Guelph organization fears more deaths if Ontario review closes overdose prevention sites

The local organization in charge of Guelph's only overdose prevention site says closing it would mean more drug users will die.

Guelph CHC houses city's only active overdose prevention site

Staff at Guelph's overdose prevention site see upwards of 30 visitors a day. (Guelph Community Health Centre/ Facebook)

The local organization in charge of Guelph's only overdose prevention site says closing it would mean more drug users will die.

This week, provincial Health Minister Christine Elliott announced that the government is reviewing evidence on the sites across the province to see if they "have merit" and are worth continuing.

"I think without question what we would see is increasing deaths in our community, if we're forced to close our doors," Raechelle Devereaux, executive director of the Guelph Community Health Centre told CBC KW.

If the province were to end the programme, the overdose prevention site located in downtown Guelph would have to cease operations in November of this year.

"The research is out there, it's concrete and it's clear that overdose prevention sites and supervised consumption sites save lives," Devereaux said

 "And it's our hope that the province [won't] chose to undo the great strides that communities have been able to make to save lives amidst this current crisis." 

Karen Quigley Hobbs with the Region of Waterloo public health supports that claim.

"There is identified need in Region of Waterloo for a SCS and evidence of effectiveness world-wide. This is outlined locally in the Feasibility Study," said Quigley Hobbs. "SCS is a key tool and approach in the harm reduction pillar of the 5 pillar opioid response plan for Waterloo Region."

Exploring options

Christine Elliott said the government plans to make a decision in the coming weeks on the sites that have funding that is about to expire, but will also eventually rule on the program as a whole.

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 committed to reviewing evidence on the issue.

 Devereaux said Guelph CHC is exploring its options on a permanent site application to Health Canada if the province does pull funding for the initiatives.

If they go that route, Devereaux said they would apply for an extension of the current overdose prevention site through the province "to bridge the need until a permanent site could be opened".

Devereaux said the group is seeing upwards of about 30 visitors a day, and has intervened in five overdoses and two medical emergencies in the 11 weeks since they've been open.

Those accessing the site range from people experiencing homelessness, to those who have full time jobs, Devereaux has previously told CBC.

"They are coming because they know there is help available. They are coming to the site because they want to live," she said earlier this month.