The province of Ontario is committing a little under $1.4 million annually towards the operation of a Consumption and Treatment Services site (CTS) at Peterborough’s downtown opioid response hub on Simcoe Street.
The funding agreement for the site was announced today, bringing to a close more than four years of sustained effort by local social-service agencies and community advocates to establish a safe injection site for people who use drugs.
With a location and funding now secured, Fourcast, the addictions treatment provider that will run the site, will move quickly to hire staff and begin operations, Fourcast’s executive director Donna Rogers said.
In remarks delivered this morning, Rogers said the site will “keep people alive in a drug landscape that is increasingly deadly.”
Peterborough’s medical officer of health Dr. Thomas Piggott called the new funding “a critical step forward in our efforts to respond to the drug poisoning crisis in our region through a compassionate, comprehensive harm reduction approach.”
Drug consumption sites go by many names in Canada, but they all provide a similar service: a safe and sanctioned place for people to use drugs under the supervision of medical staff who can intervene in the event of an overdose.
There are over three dozen permanent supervised consumption sites operating in Canada, and many more temporary sites, as well. According to the federal health information database, staff at supervised consumption sites across the country attended to approximately 15,000 overdoses and other drug-related medical emergencies between 2017 and 2019, with no reported fatalities.
Piggott called the opening of a supervised consumption site “a significant milestone” for Peterborough, but he also observed it was “overdue.”
An application for funding to operate a CTS at the hub was first submitted to the province in December 2020. By June 2021, the federal government had given its legal approval to operate the site, but there was no update from the province on funding. Even as recently as last month, when the opioid response hub opened its doors to the public, there was no word from the province on whether it would fund consumption services at the facility.
In recent weeks, MPP Dave Smith raised concerns to Peterborough Currents about the model proposed for offering consumption services at the hub, including questions about whether the space was big enough to offer wraparound and treatment services. ”When you look at that application, and you look at the floor plan that they’ve put forward, the question you have to ask [is] ‘Where’s the treatment?’ Because it’s not on site,” he said in an interview.
Peterborough Currents repeatedly asked MPP Smith this morning whether anything changed recently that led to the approval of the application. Smith did not answer, saying he preferred to focus on “the fact that we’re making a positive difference in this community.”
In the eight months since the federal government gave its approval for the site to operate, dozens of people are suspected to have died of opioid-related causes in the region served by Peterborough Public Health.
The funding announced today — about $1.4 million per year — is the full amount Fourcast applied for, Rogers said. The Ministry of Health “accepted and approved our full budget with no negotiations, which was a very pleasant surprise,” she said.
That means Peterborough’s CTS will be better equipped than some others in the province, according to Rogers. For example, Peterborough’s site will have a full-time nurse, something not every site has, she said. Paramedics will also be on-site, as well as overdose prevention workers.
The opioid response hub already provides harm reduction supplies such as sterile needles and naloxone kits. The hub is also the headquarters of the Mobile Support Overdose Resource Team — a federally-funded outreach initiative that primarily serves people who have survived overdoses.
At today’s announcement, MPP Dave Smith hinted at more upcoming announcements related to addictions treatment services. “I want to make it very clear to our community that this is not the finish line. This is one step,” he said.
In February, Peterborough’s board of health voted to commit $250,000 toward the operation of a safe injection site in the event that provincial funding didn’t materialize quickly enough. Piggott said this morning that that money is no longer needed to operate the site, but he added that Peterborough Public Health “will reflect on all opportunities to respond as quickly and reasonably as possible” to the opioid crisis.
Piggott ended his remarks by speaking directly to people who use drugs and their families and friends. “We see your pain. We see your losses,” he said. “Our work on the crisis does not end today. Do not be patient. Demand more.”