Health unit unveils long-term strategy to battle drug, alcohol addiction

With London and surrounding areas continuing to struggle with the effects of addiction, the Middlesex-London Health Unit has laid out its strategy to combat drug and alcohol abuse.

Report's recommendations include permanent safe consumption site for London

Rhonda Brittan said the strategy announced Tuesday lays out a long-term plan for dealing with drug and alcohol abuse in the region. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

With London and its surrounding areas continuing to deal with the effects of addiction, the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) has laid out its long-term strategy to combat drug and alcohol abuse. 

Sixty pages long and 30 months in the making, the report acts as a road map, spelling out a cohesive strategy that spans multiple agencies. The report released Tuesday comes after a collaboration involving 50 different service agencies, police and people with experience living with addiction. 

It calls for a "new trajectory" forward and identifies opioids as a particular problem, with overdoses claiming 30 lives in both 2016 and 2017.

Work on the report began back in 2015, when a rise in opioid deaths and problems with impaired driving and crystal methamphetamine use were flagged as significant health problems. 

"We wanted to have a strategy that looked at what we can be doing for the next many years to both address and prevent substance abuse," said Rhonda Brittan, the health unit's manager of healthy communities. "It really is about pulling back and looking at the big picture." 

The report includes 23 recommendations and 59 priority actions to be carried out over the next three years. 

Many are straightforward, including a call for improved co-ordination between services, more education about substance abuse and more money for affordable housing. 

But other recommendations get more specific, including a call to develop a response to deal with drug-induced psychosis caused by crystal methamphetamine use. 

The report also recommends that people affected by addiction should be recruited to develop ways to fight it. 

It also calls for more support for Indigenous communities and a strategy focused on helping people in the criminal justice system struggling with addiction.

Other recommendations call for work to reduce the stigma related to substance use. policies to address poverty and homelessness and greater access to treatment services. 

Report calls for safe consumption site

With harm reduction as one of the strategy's four pillars (along with prevention, treatment and enforcement), one of the report's recommendations is for London to have a permanent supervised consumption site. 

In February, London began operating a Temporary Overdose Prevention Site at 186 King St., but its long-term future is far from certain.

The provincial government is reviewing whether or not to fund safe consumption sites on a long-term basis. Dr. Chris Mackie, medical officer and CEO of the MLHU, has said the site has prevented multiple overdoses since it began operating. MLHU has proposed two downtown locations for permanent sites and also has plans for a mobile van that would make stops at identified areas in London.

With the strategy now laid out, the health unit will look to hire a coordinator to implement its recommendations. 

"The next step is to put the strategy we've introduced today into action," said Brittan.