Sudbury·Audio

Sudbury to apply for federal exemption for unsanctioned supervised consumption site

With Sudbury's quest to establish a supervised consumption site in the city facing delays, the public health unit says it is working on an application for a federal exemption, to allow an unsanctioned supervised consumption site to continue to operate on an interim basis.

Health unit says exemption would allow the site to operate while work continues to establish permanent site

Opioid-related deaths in Sudbury and districts were the highest per capita out of all Ontario health units in 2020. (CBC)

With Sudbury's quest to establish a supervised consumption site in the city facing delays, the public health unit says it is working on an application for a federal exemption, to allow an unsanctioned supervised consumption site to continue to operate on an interim basis.

Volunteers with the Sudbury Overdose Prevention Society (STOPS) have been operating a safe drug use site on and off for two years. The group has faced a number of obstacles, including a recent no trespassing notice issued by the city.

But as of last week, STOPS is now working with Public Health Sudbury and Districts (PHSD), the City of Greater Sudbury and Réseau Access Network, to apply to the federal government for an Urgent Public Health Needs Site, which would allow STOPS to continue to operate, until a permanent supervised consumption site is established.

"I think many of us are very cautiously optimistic that you know the temporary component of the Sudbury Temporary Overdose Prevention Society may be coming to an end and morphing into a new component," said STOPS representative Karla Ghartey. 

Temporary solution

Last week, members of Sudbury's Community Drug Strategy presented to city council, giving an update on the efforts to establish a supervised consumption site, and the obstacles the committee has run into in finding a suitable location, which meets the criteria for the federal and provincial applications. 

During that meeting, there was some discussion about the possibility of applying for a federal exemption, to allow STOPS to continue to operate on a temporary basis. Medical Officer of Health Dr. Penny Sutcliffe explained during that meeting that such an exemption would not provide funding, but would allow the site to operate legally.

The Sudbury Temporary Overdose Prevention Society began operating an unsanctioned supervised consumption site in 2019. The volunteer run group has been running on and off since then, in several locations. (Kate Rutherford/CBC)

In a statement to CBC, PHSD said, "after this presentation, we have determined that we need to go forward with an Urgent Public Health Needs Site," to provide temporary supports. 

"This exemption was offered to put something in place quickly, and to better allow our communities to support people who use drugs who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and the simultaneous opioid poisoning crisis," the health unit said. 

Operating in a 'grey area' 

Ghartey said operating as an Urgent Public Health Needs Site would be a big help for STOPS and its volunteers, who she said often serve 50 to 100 people in a single night. 

"Basically we would be able to provide overdose prevention services without having to worry about operating in a kind of a grey area," Ghartey said. 

Karla Ghartey is one of the volunteers behind STOPS. (Supplied by Karla Ghartey)

"It's also a way of showcasing to the community that this is a legitimate response to the opioid poisoning crisis, and that this is one way that, from an urgent public health perspective, that communities can respond."

PHSD said the city is helping to find a location where the temporary service can operate.

The health unit hopes to present the application to council, as well as location suggestions, at its next meeting on June 15, and then submit the application to Health Canada shortly afterwards. 

Northern mayors address opioid crisis 

This effort comes as the mayors of northern Ontario's five largest cities said addressing the opioid crisis is a shared priority.

Following a meeting of the Northern Ontario Large Urban Mayors group on Tuesday, the leaders of Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay and Timmins said they will be sending a letter to the province and to the federal government. 

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. 

Brian Bigger is the mayor of Greater Sudbury. (Submitted by The City of Greater Sudbury)

"The help and the support can't come quick enough. It is impacting our communities and people in our communities in so many ways. We feel that there is a great urgency here," said Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger. 

Sault Ste. Marie Mayor Christian Provenzano said municipalities are doing what they can, "but frankly we need help."

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah MacMillan is a reporter with CBC Sudbury. She previously worked with CBC P.E.I. You can contact her at sarah.macmillan@cbc.ca

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now