Thunder Bay

Overdose prevention site delay disappoints drug strategy coordinator

Delaying the sites means Thunder Bay will continue to see sky-high rates of opioid use and issues with discarded needles, Cynthia Olsen told CBC — and frontline workers will continue to be traumatized by overdose deaths.

The Ford government announced Monday it is holding off on the sites while it reviews their merits

An overdose prevention site, like this one in London, Ont., was set to open in Thunder Bay within the next few weeks. (Amanda Margison, CBC News)

The coordinator of the Thunder Bay, Ont. Drug Strategy says she's disappointed by news that Ontario plans to hold off opening three new overdose prevention sites in the province.

One of those sites was set to open in Thunder Bay in the next few weeks. 

Delaying the sites means the city will continue to see sky-high rates of opioid use and issues with discarded needles, Cynthia Olsen told CBC — and frontline workers will continue to be traumatized by overdose deaths.  

"We actually have one of the highest rates of overdose deaths in Ontario, which means it's impacting our workers, our family and our friends in our community," she said.

Overdose prevention sites are temporary facilities that offer supervised drug injection, harm reduction supplies, and naloxone to drug users.

The province created them to help reduce opioid deaths.

"Right now in Ontario, three people are dying every day due to opioids," said Thunder Bay Drug Strategy coordinator Cynthia Olsen, "and so every day that these services are delayed at the community level impacts that number of deaths." (Jody Porter/CBC)

But the Ford government announced Monday it is holding off on the sites while it reviews their merits. 

"I'm confident in the evidence that's out there," Olsen said, adding that a high-quality review of the literature on overdose prevention facilities found that they decrease public injecting, decrease drug-related litter in the neighbourhood, and increase uptake of health and other treatment services.

"That appears to be one of the key pieces that the Minister is wanting to ensure is that there is this connection between offering these services and accessing treatment services at the community for individuals who want it," Olsen said.

The Drug Strategy will provide evidence to the Minister to support the sites and monitor her review, Olsen added.  It will also lobby for the program to go ahead.   

"Right now in Ontario, three people are dying every day due to opioids," Olsen said, "and so every day that these services are delayed at the community level impacts that number of deaths."  

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