Thunder Bay

Overdose prevention site opens in Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay's first overdose prevention site is now open at the NorWest Community Health Centre on Simpson Street in the northwestern Ontario city. The original opening date was postponed while the Ontario Progressive Conservative government reviewed evidence about whether these sites are effective.

Opening delayed while Ford government reviewed evidence about the effectiveness of these sites

Juanita Lawson is the CEO of NorWest Community Health Centres. "We're really excited," she said of the opening of the new overdose prevention site. "We've spent a lot of time and energy working to get to this point." (Heather Kitching/CBC)

Thunder Bay's first overdose prevention site is now open at the NorWest Community Health Centre in the northwestern Ontario city.

The site offers people using illicit drugs a safe environment with clean paraphernalia and staff on hand to react quickly to overdoses.

"We're really excited," said NorWest Community Health Centres CEO Juanita Lawson. "We've spent a lot of time and energy working to get to this point."

The overdose prevention site is accessible via an entrance off Simpson Street, leading to an elevator to a downstairs waiting room so people frequenting the site don't need to enter the centre's main waiting area.  

The consumption room contains two stations equipped with mirrors, sharps containers, and sanitary wipes.  There is also a station equipped with naloxone kits and first aid supplies.  

'We want to create some safety'

People visiting the facility are asked to wait in a "chill-out room" for around 20 minutes after using so that harm reduction workers can ensure they're okay before they leave.  

The overdose prevention site had been set to open earlier this year, but Ontario's Progressive Conservative government put the breaks on new sites saying it wanted to review the evidence supporting them. 

In late October,  the provincial health minister said the site would be allowed to proceed, but the focus mus shift to getting people into treatment.

"We want to create some safety for people to come and be engaged with our staff," Lawson said. 

"But then also hopefully they will make some choices to engage and maybe find access to housing or have some food security, because many people are living very vulnerable and compromised lives," she said.

The site also gives people "an opportunity to potentially go into mental health or addictions services or maybe use our Rapid Access Addiction Medicine Program," which is "something that the ministry wants to see," Lawson said.

The overdose prevention site program services will be available Monday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. 

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