Peterborough’s progress toward opening a consumption and treatment service (CTS) site at 220 Simcoe Street has taken a step forward.
Health Canada has approved the site at the former Greyhound bus station for a conditional exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, said Donna Rogers, the executive director of Fourcast, at a press conference yesterday.
A Health Canada exemption from the Act is required to allow the use of otherwise illegal substances at any supervised consumption site. The federal government’s website lists 37 supervised consumption sites across the country which are currently operating with an exemption from the Act.
Peterborough’s CTS would offer drug users medical supervision during and after drug use so that a life-saving intervention could be made in the event of a poisoning. According to the federal health information database, staff at supervised consumption sites across Canada attended to approximately 15,000 overdoses and other drug-related medical emergencies between 2017 and 2019. None of those emergencies resulted in a fatality.
“Last year, we lost 42 community members in Peterborough City and County to suspected opioid poisonings,” Rogers reminded attendees at the announcement yesterday.
Drug users and their loved ones are waiting for more options to reduce the risk of fatal drug poisonings, and a CTS site is one of those options, she said.
“We hear from community members and family members [that] they just want their loved ones to not die,” Rogers said. “And if this is one of the options that’s in the toolkit, any option at this point is very welcome.”
Province is reviewing application for operating funding
The exemption from Health Canada would provide legal permission to operate the Simcoe Street CTS, though it is conditional on the site securing operating funding, Rogers said.
Of the 37 supervised consumption sites operating with an exemption in Canada, 19 are in Ontario. But only 16 of those have obtained provincial funding, Rogers said. In 2018, the provincial government capped the number of sites it would fund at 21.
A funding application for the Peterborough site was submitted to the provincial Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care last year.
“The experience of other Ontario CTSs is that the Health Canada exemption is followed closely with the approval of operating funding,” Rogers said.
MPP Dave Smith has previously stated he would stand behind Peterborough’s application for a CTS site. But he has not been involved in the Simcoe Street proposal or expressed support for it, and he said yesterday that he could not provide any timelines on when the results of the funding application might be announced.
In a phone call to Peterborough Currents yesterday, Smith said that the Peterborough community doesn’t yet have enough treatment options for drug users, and that he was prioritizing those projects. “There are some applications in for other types of services,” Smith said. “And I’m really hopeful that we’ll be successful in getting them.”
In April, Smith told city councillors that he was hoping to make announcements about enhanced treatment options “in the coming months.”
Years in the making
Agencies in Peterborough began working formally to open a supervised consumption site in early 2018, after the Liberal provincial government launched a funding program for what were then called overdose prevention sites (OPS). An OPS application was submitted in advance of the 2018 provincial election, but a site had not yet been identified at that time, and so the application could not be approved, according to a report from Peterborough Public Health.
The Progressive Conservative government eliminated the funding program established by the Liberals and replaced it with the Consumption and Treatment Services model in October 2018.
While most supervised consumption sites in Ontario are provincially-funded, some are not. In the transition to the CTS model in 2019, some sites had their provincial funding pulled but continued to operate under their Health Canada exemption with the help of a one-time federal grant and private donations.
In an email to Peterborough Currents, Rogers wrote that the partners behind the Simcoe Street application don’t have a plan for how to pay for supervised consumption services at the site without provincial funding.
In anticipation of a funding decision from the provincial government, Rogers says the CTS partners are moving forward with renovations in the space so that it is ready to host the services as soon as funding is confirmed.
“We’re trying to be proactive,” Rogers said. “We just feel that this is not a good time to wait.”
To fund the renovations, the partner agencies have set a goal of raising $160,000 through the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough’s Consumption and Treatment Services Fund.
To date, the fund has raised $25,000, Rogers said.