Kitchener-Waterloo

Safer drug supply program gets federal cash to support up to 150 people in Guelph

The Guelph Community Health Centre has received $1.1 million from the federal government to expand its safe drug supply program.

'People in Guelph are dying in record numbers,' says health centre's Melissa Kwiatkowski

The Guelph Community Health Centre will expand its safer drug supply program after receiving $1.1 million in funding from Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program. (Guelph Community Health Centre/ Facebook)

The Guelph Community Health Centre (GCHC) received more than $1.1 million from the federal government to expand its existing safe supply program.

The program currently serves 10 people. The funding will allow the centre to support up to 150 people.

The funding is part of Health Canada's Substance Use and Addictions Program.

"Many of the opioids and substances circulating in our community have inconsistent strength and purity," said Melissa Kwiatkowski, primary health director at the centre, during a virtual announcement Thursday morning.

She added between March 2020 to April 2021, suspected substances-related deaths rose by 260 per cent. 

Recent numbers for opioid-related deaths in 2019 and the first half of 2020 suggest Guelph's numbers are higher than the provincial average, according to centre.

"The drug supply is poisoned," Kwiatkowski said.

Since August 2018, there have been 19 health alerts issued warning people of the dangers and toxicity of street drugs in Guelph.

"People in Guelph are dying in record numbers and we know the uncertainty brought on by COVID-19 has contributed to increasing substance use and isolation, making our existing crisis much worse," she said.

The safer drug supply program at the centre started as a pilot in the fall of 2020 and is led by a clinical advisory council made up of a physician, pharmacist and other clinical staff.

'Safer supply is one step in the right direction'

Those accessing the safe supply program at the centre are prescribed opioids through a physician or nurse practitioner and are met with other wraparound supports from a team of healthcare providers.

Dr. Ahmed Jakda, medical director of the safer supply program, said staff follow a strict criteria when someone is brought on.

"Our clinical protocol monitors patients carefully and we work as an interdisciplinary team to serve this population with a harm reduction approach," he said during the virtual announcement.

Officials said safer supply programs benefit those with opioid addictions who have been unsuccessful in other treatment approaches, which can include opioid agonist programs like suboxone and methadone programs.

Jakda said one woman who went through the program has since been able to find work and is going back to school.

"Human beings need hope, not stigma," he said. "Safer supply is one step in the right direction."

The centre will use the funds over the next two years to hire more staff like peers, outreach support, as well as clinical oversight for the program.

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