Guelph’s Safe Consumption Site Survives (Six Do Not)

The safe consumption site that operates out of the Guelph Community Health Centre on Wyndham Street downtown is one of 15 sites approved by the Government of Ontario as part of its new comprehensive and connected mental health and addictions treatment system. However, six other sites in Ontario that were operating up until today will have to close.

Six sites in Toronto, three in Ottawa, and one each in St. Catherines, London, Hamilton, Kingston and Thunder Bay join Guelph as the 15 safe consumption sites approved by the provincial government.

“Our government takes the opioids crisis very seriously,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health and Long-Term Care in a press release.

“That’s why we’ve created a new Consumption and Treatment Services model that will continue to save lives by preventing overdoses and connecting people to primary care, treatment, rehabilitation, and other health and social services to ensure those struggling with drug addiction get the help they need.”

Under the new name “Consumption and Treatment Services Sites”, services are examined on the bases of addressing local needs, offering integrated wrap-around health and social services, providing evidence of community support and demonstrating a commitment to ongoing community engagement, and proximity to other Consumption and Treatment Services as well as licensed child care centres, parks and schools.

“This announcement is part of our commitment to invest $3.8 billion over the next 10 years to finally develop and implement a comprehensive, connected and integrated mental health and addictions treatment strategy, centred around patients, family and caregivers,” Elliott added. “We will continue to make mental health and addictions a priority and work toward creating an Ontario where everyone is fully supported in their journey toward mental wellness.”

So far, not everyone is feeling supported.

“In the midst of a mental health and addictions crisis, the government is preventing communities across Ontario from providing life-saving services,” said Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner in a press statement. “We’ve gone from an illogical 21-site cap to a completely inadequate 15-site program that will force six sites to close at a moment’s notice.”

Schreiner did express his relief that the Guelph safe consumption site will remain open, but he is also concerned about the lack of services in other affected cities in the region. “[I]t is shocking that places like Waterloo Region, which saw a huge spike to 106 suspected overdoses in February, have been blocked from providing life-saving support,” Schreiner said.

Unfortunately, Guelph’s is the only safe consumption site along the 401 corridor between Toronto and London. In Kitchener, an “unregulated” volunteer-run mobile consumption site was operating last month as an attempt to fill the need. Meanwhile, in Cambridge, city council this week passed a bylaw that would bar a safe consumption site from being opened in the downtown core, or in the 500 meters surrounding it.

According to the latest data from Ontario Public Health, there were 629 deaths from opioid overdoses in Ontario in the first six months of 2018. On top of that, there were 6,688 opioid-related emergency room visits and 1,544 cases that required hospitalization.

Although criticized by Premier Doug Ford, the Province of Ontario announced last fall that they would continue funding the 21 previously opened temporary safe consumption sites until a review was completed. The licenses for all sites in Ontario were set to expire Sunday.

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