Sudbury's supervised consumption site to open within weeks
Site recently received Health Canada approval, hiring and training underway
Sudbury's long-awaited supervised consumption site is weeks away from opening to people wanting to use drugs under medical supervision, and those seeking supports or safer drug supplies.
Last month, the site in northern Ontario received approval from Health Canada, allowing it to legally operate. The modular trailer on vacant land at Energy Court, off Lorne Street, is now nearly set up.
The site was originally slated to open earlier this spring, but construction delays as well as staff hiring pushed the opening date back.
"It's no secret COVID's been hard on the health-care industry, so trying to find health-care professionals in the middle of a staffing crisis has slowed us down a little bit," said Neil Stephen, manager of consumption and treatment services for the site, which is being operated by Réseau Access Network.
Stephen said a full-time nurse and paramedic have been hired, along with social workers, and he is in the process of hiring additional staff. He expects the site to be operational within four to six weeks.
"Now it's just about hiring and that final bit of training while we wait for some of our last-minute equipment to come in."
The building consists of several rooms, including an intake room, a room where people use drugs, and an observation area where people are asked to wait afterwards.
"Once they come in, really it's just about greeting them and welcoming them as warmly and non-judgmentally as we possibly can. These are still people —they just happen to use drugs," Stephen said.
At all times, there will be at least one registered nurse or paramedic on site to monitor people and respond to any overdoses.
Veronica Mensah is the first full-time registered nurse hired for the site. After spending some time working in the addictions unit at Health Sciences North, Mensah said she was drawn to the area of harm reduction.
"Not everyone who uses drugs necessarily wants to stop using drugs or is ready to stop using drugs. And with the toxic drug supply that we have, people are dying," Mensah said.
Awaiting provincial funding
As well as preventing overdose deaths, Stephen said part of the goal with the site is to build positive relationships with people who use drugs. He said many people's relationships with the health-care system have been eroded due to stigma around drug use.
Staff will also be available to connect people with addiction services and necessities like housing and mental health supports.
While the site has Health Canada approval, it does not yet have any provincial funding. That's something Stephen is hopeful will be approved soon.
"With the approval from the province, we'd transition from a supervised consumption site to a consumption and treatment services site under provincial jurisdiction and funding. So that would allow me to hire additional staff, offer additional services and extend our hours."
While the federal exemption permitting illicit drugs applies only to the building itself, Stephen said Sudbury police are supportive of the supervised consumption site.
"We are aware of the fact that they are going to be doing patrols in the area, but they're not going to intentionally try to intervene with people's use of the site. Because if people become afraid to come here, then it doesn't address that overdose and that fatality risk," Stephen said.