Council votes on future location of a drug consumption and treatment site, still months away from opening
Green light from city needed for application to be submitted
City council is voting Monday on its endorsement of a consumption and treatment site for Windsor — the last step needed in a years-long process that would allow the health unit to formally apply to upper levels of government to eventually establish the site.
Two councillors say they can't be certain council will support it, amid an ongoing opioid crisis that's increasingly taken more local lives.
At a Monday city council meeting, councillors will vote on the consumption and treatment site and its proposed location at 628 Goyeau St. The item was previously bumped from council's agenda twice, originally scheduled for debate in October.
The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) needs city approval before it can submit an application to the provincial and federal governments. If approved, a site could open in the city by the end of the year, at the earliest.
"[The site] can save the lives of people who are currently using opioids and also provides them an opportunity to access treatment, so that they can get better and ultimately not use opioids at all," said Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, acting medical officer of health for Windsor-Essex, during a media briefing last week.
The health unit began collecting information for a possible site in 2018.
Since then, the opioid crisis has only gotten worse in Windsor-Essex, according to a 372-page document headed to council Monday.
Data from the Windsor Essex Community Opioid and Substance Strategy (WECOSS) says that opioid-related deaths have continued to rise at an "alarming rate" over the last five years, and that the pandemic "has only served to exacerbate the local opioid and overdose crisis."
Ahead of Monday's meeting, Coun. Kieran McKenzie (Ward 9) told CBC News that "at a high-level," he's "very supportive" of the plan.
"I'm comfortable with what's being recommended," he said. The health unit's report, he said, is one of the most "extensive" he's seen.
"[The] status quo, [is] not acceptable. We need to be proactive in addressing these issues in our community ... we have to act, we need to act and there's not going to be a perfect solution," he said.
McKenzie noted that this is one of many services needed to support people struggling with addiction.
Meanwhile, Coun. Fabio Costante (Ward 2), who also sits on the health unit board, said it will likely be a "contentious" issue, but says he is "in favour" of a site and hopes council makes a decision that is "based on evidence."
Should it move forward, Costante said, it's the start of a solution.
"It's also a signal to those who are victims of this addiction, to family members of victims of this addiction, to friends of victims of this addiction, that we are taking a further approach to help people," he said.
Both councillors said they couldn't predict whether council will vote in favour of the site's location.
Windsor police support site
Among the reports and letters of approval headed to council, there is a letter from Windsor police chief Pam Mizuno. In it, Mizuno said Windsor police have "no objection to this health [led] initiative and will continue to provide assistance as needed to ensure a successful implementation of the community plan."
Former Windsor police chief Al Frederick was against equipping officers with naloxone — a drug that is used to reverse opioid overdoses — and having a safe injection site in the community.
Leadership changed in 2019. The following year, Mizuno said officers would be carrying naloxone in the next 12 months.
In a statement to CBC News Friday, Windsor's police service said if a site is created, it will work to "ensure the safety and security of all community members."
Record opioid-related deaths in 2020
In 2020, WECOSS data shows that there were 358 opioid-related emergency department visits — which is nearly triple the amount seen in 2016.
There was also 68 opioid-related deaths in 2020, which WECOSS said is the highest number of annual deaths since the health unit started tracking data in 2005.
Public Health Ontario preliminary data reports 26 deaths in Windsor-Essex in the first six months of 2021, with five more listed as probable.
Last year, the health unit also issued a record 13 alerts, which notified the public of a significant number of opioid overdoses in the region.