Why 'love is a powerful tool' in fixing London's opioid crisis
'This is going to save lives,' said London Mayor Matt Brown. 'People are dying'
London's top doctor told a room full of the city's top politicians, health and law enforcement officials that money alone can't solve the city's drug problem and that respect and love will go a long way to help change the stigma of addiction and get help to those caught in the middle of London's opioid crisis.
The statement came at the tail end of the hotly anticipated announcement of the location of London's first supervised injection site, which will be temporarily housed at 186 King St. and share space with London's Region HIV/AIDS Connection in the downtown core.
"Just that shift to treating people with respect and maybe even a bit of love, that is a powerful shift and it will change the perception of the using community and it will potentially change lives," Doctor Chris Mackie, the city's medical officer of health said Friday.
Mackie's words also seemed to set a tone for a city that wants find a new way to treat a drug problem that, at times, seems out of control.
Big city drug problem
Last year, London had the third highest rate of opioid overdoses in the country, handed out free needles at a rate second only to Vancouver and is the only city in Ontario where new cases of blood borne illnesses — such as HIV — are on the rise, thanks to drug users sharing dirty needles.
"This temporary overdose prevention site is going to save lives," said London Mayor Matt Brown, who has pushed hard for the site for months. "People are dying. This is one way we can address that immediately."
The site, which opens in mid-February, comes with a one-time provincial grant of $130,000 for the first six months of its operations.
It will also bring together six different social agencies, including the London-Middlesex Health Unit, the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection, London Intercommunity Health Centre, Addiction Services of Thames Valley, London CARES and the Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre.
Six agencies to have hand in injection site
"We don't really have hard data on how many of our clients are affected, but we do know they use these services," said Miranda Campbell, the director of clinical services for the Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre.
Campbell said her agency has recently secured funding for two harm reduction outreach workers to check on people within the London and Owen Sound region's Indigenous population who might be dealing with addiction.
One of them will operate out of the new safe injection site in London once a week in order to make sure Indigenous clients get services tailored to their specific needs.
"One of our top diagnoses is substance addiction," she said. "A lot of our clients suffer from the impacts of colonization and intergenerational trauma and there's a lot of stigma and racism when they go place for support.
"It's really important that our clients have a safe environment to go to that's culturally safe and trauma informed so we're hoping to provide a part of that aspect," she said.
While the new site will be tailored to specific cultural needs, it will also provide multi-faceted support to all people, something that's welcome news to former addict turned outreach worker Andrew MacLean.
He said prospect of a medically-supervised site where addicts can find not only a safe place to use drugs, but also to find help with multiple social agencies is important.
"There's a lot of people out there on the street that are so worthwhile and they deserve to have the gift that I was given to be cared about and being given the dignity we all deserve in life," he said.
MacLean said that when he was using, it was one of the darkest times of his life and it didn't matter what he took.
"Anything, everything, whatever could numb my mind enough so I didn't have to be me because I couldn't stand to be my own skin," he said.
When asked if a safe injection site would have helped him when he was still struggling with his addictions, he answered:
"The nice answer would be 'Yes, it would change my life.," he said, noting that it's the people who run social agencies that make the difference.
"They're there because they care," he said. "It's because of that passion is what's going to change lives."