The Ontario government announced on Monday plans to readapt the province’s overdose prevention sites into facilities focusing on treatment and rehabilitation.
This new “Consumption and Treatment Services” model will connect those in need with a wider array of health and social services, such as mental health, primary care and even employment.
Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Christine Elliot says that the point is to go beyond prevention and actually rid people of their addiction, be it opioids or any other substances.
There are 19 active overdose prevention sites across Ontario right now functioning under the older “Supervised Consumption Services and Overdose Prevention Site” model. The PC government's new system comes on the heels of a province-wide review initiated this past July. No more than 21 sites will be allowed under the new regime.
Premier Doug Ford has previously expressed his disapproval of such sites, but also said he’d listen to experts.
Each existing site will also have to reapply and be re-assessed according to the new mandate. They’ll also be allowed to keep their supervised drug consumption function and continue to receive government funding. Premier Doug Ford has previously expressed his disapproval of such sites, but also noted that he’d listen to experts.
The PC government’s review of existing overdose-prevention sites concluded, among other things, that a “reduction in illness and death,” as well as “lower rates of public drug use and needle sharing” are found where supervised consumption services are available. Moreover, it also found that such services help “reduce the strain” on Ontario’s healthcare system.
The major adjustment, according to Elliot, will be to shift the focus to treatment and rehabilitation while connecting people to a broader range of social and health services.
“To be honest, that’s what we’re doing in those sites already,” says Nick Boyce, Director of the Ontario HIV and Substance Use Training Program. “There may not always be formal connections to wider services, but the workers are taking the time to learn about people’s lives and to make the appropriate referrals. Maybe they’re going to beef things up and provide support since most workers are already completely overworked.”
“It’s also unclear why they’re capping the number of sites at 21 because the overdose crisis affects communities all across Ontario. When you have people already expressing the need for these sites, you need to listen to those folks,” he says. More than 1,200 people across Ontario died of drug overdoses in the past year.
The province is experiencing problems with drug abuse and overdose amounting to the most alarming public health crisis in recent history. Boyce notes that a crisis of this magnitude requires a complete shift away from treating drug abuse as a criminal matter instead of a public health problem.
“Until then, everything is just band-aids,” he says.
Cover image of Premier of Ontario Doug Ford at a media event in Saskatoon, Thursday, October 4, 2018. Photo by Liam Richards/The Canadian Press