Sudbury

New Sault Ste. Marie addictions support service to apply for supervised consumption site

A new harm reduction organization in Sault Ste. Marie says it's working to establish a safe supervised consumption site in the city's downtown.

'People are saying that it's necessary because we have had enough loss'

There are local efforts to ease the opioid crisis in Sault Ste. Marie, but the city says it still needs help from the provincial government. (CBC)

A new organization in Sault Ste. Marie says it's working to establish a government sanctioned supervised consumption site, in the city's downtown.

Desiree Beck is the executive director of the non-profit Willow Addiction Support Services. She said recent data collected, paired with the unrelenting growth of the opioid crisis in the north, spurred her into action.

According to the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario, Algoma Public Heath recorded 53 opioid-related deaths in 2020. That's up from 17 in the previous year. 

"People are saying that it's necessary because we have had enough loss," Beck said. 

To be quite honest I don't think there's one place that I've reached out to locally, so far, that has not been supportive.— Desiree Beck, Willow Addiction Support Services

Beck said her organization has already identified an ideal facility for the site and is working on an application to submit to provincial and federal entities for approval.

"We do have quite a bit of support and to be quite honest I don't think there's one place that I've reached out to locally, so far, that has not been supportive of what we're doing." 

Before taking on the role as executive director of Willow Addiction Support Services, Desiree Beck was worked with the local drug strategy for three years. (Submitted by Desiree Beck)

While the group's plans for a supervised consumption site are still in early stages, Beck was able to offer a couple of details. 

"It's not in a residential neighbourhood," Beck said.

"Just like anyone else who would be looking to establish one of these sites, I do have to follow the regulations that state I have to be 200 metres away from childcare centres, schools, parks; places where children and families congregate. So we took all of that into consideration." 

Willow Addiction Support Services is not the only group in the region that has been working to find a sanctioned site.

Volunteers with the Sudbury Overdose Prevention Society (STOPS) have been operating a safe drug use site on and off for two years as they have been delayed by various obstacles in procuring a sanctioned site.

Beck said her organization is currently seeking public feedback on the idea through a series of virtual consultations. She hosted the first one Tuesday night, which saw 16 people attend and ask questions. 

Willow Addiction Support Services is not the only group in the region that has been working to find a sanctioned site. Volunteers with the Sudbury Overdose Prevention Society (STOPS) have been operating a safe drug use site on and off for two years, as they have encountered various obstacles in procuring a permanent, sanctioned site. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC )

Public consultations will take place throughout July. Beck said once feedback is gathered, the main objective will be to meet with city council and present the proposal.

It's clear that the problem is not abating and it's clear that the people we're losing — the number of people we're losing is on the rise.— Sault Ste. Marie Mayor Christian Provenzano

She noted that the group already met and consulted with the local drug strategy on the organization's proposal last month. Beck also said she's been in communication with Sault Ste. Marie mayor Christian Provenzano. 

"On a longstanding basis, I'm supportive of supervised consumption and creating safe spaces," Provenzano told CBC.

'We've been calling on the government to make a significant adjustment in the provision of those healthcare services and we're hoping to see an adjustment,' says Mayor of Sault Ste. Marie Christian Provenzano. (Twitter)

Earlier this month, mayors from northern Ontario's five largest cities met and agreed that addressing the opioid crisis is a shared priority.

In 2020, the five health units in the province with the highest per capita rates of opioid related deaths were all in northern Ontario, according to numbers recently released by Public Health Ontario. 

Following the meeting, leaders of Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, North Bay and Timmins sent a letter to the province and to the federal government calling for action.

In the letter, the mayors said they asked for a meeting with Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in addition to a national strategy to address the opioid crisis. 

"We've been calling on the government to make a significant adjustment in the provision of those healthcare services and we're hoping to see an adjustment because it's clear that the problem is not abating," Provenazano said.

"It's clear that the people we're losing — the number of people we're losing is on the rise and it's sad and more needs to be done."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Juric

Reporter

Sam Juric is a CBC reporter and producer, through which she's had the privilege of telling stories from P.E.I., Sudbury and Nunavut.

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