Peterborough’s new opioid response hub opened its doors Tuesday in the newly-renovated former Greyhound bus terminal on Simcoe Street.
People who use drugs can now walk in to pick up harm reduction supplies, such as sterile syringes, naloxone, and wound care kits. And once public health measures due to the current COVID-19 wave are loosened, there will be in-person addictions counselling and opioid withdrawal support, according to the local agencies running the facility.
“We’re happy to be back in the neighbourhood and be really accessible,” said Kerri Kightley, a program manager with addiction treatment provider Fourcast, the lead agency behind the opioid response hub. Harm reduction services were offered out of the building in the past, but it had been closed for several months while it was renovated with the help of $160,000 in donations from the community.
Chanti Cameron, a harm reduction worker with PARN – Your Community AIDS Resource Network, says she’s excited and hopeful for the space. “It’s only our third day here and Monday we had to stay closed [due to a snowstorm], but people are starting to come through,” she said on Wednesday morning. “I hope folks come in and, you know, it’s very important that they do use safe supplies and clean supplies every time they use.”
Kightley said there was a sense of excitement in the building as the doors opened to the public Tuesday. But she said there was also frustration that the facility is not yet able to offer the main service it was designed to provide: a space for people to use drugs under the supervision of health professionals, in order to prevent deadly overdoses.
Frustration over delayed safe drug consumption site
The federal government granted approval to open a supervised drug consumption and treatment site at the location last year. But an application for operating funding has languished at Ontario’s health ministry for more than a year without a decision.
“We request updates, and we’re told the application has been accepted and they’ll contact us when a decision has been made,” said Kightley, who runs Fourcast’s Mobile Supportive Overdose Resource Team (MSORT), which does follow-up visits with people who’ve overdosed and is now based out of the opioid response hub.
MSORT was set up as a pilot project to help save lives in the absence of a supervised drug consumption site in Peterborough.
The province is facing increasing pressure to explain why the funding application is still in limbo, after a record 44 deaths from suspected opioid poisonings were recorded by Peterborough Public Health last year.
On Monday, Peterborough city council voted to request a meeting with Ontario health minister Christine Elliott to discuss the matter.
It comes after Peterborough Public Health’s board of health voted last week to write Elliott to request an update on the application’s status.
“I wish I could tell you how many lives would have been saved” if a supervised drug consumption and treatment site were already in place, said Dr. Thomas Piggott, Peterborough’s medical officer of health at last week’s board of health meeting.
Peterborough’s mortality rate from opioid poisonings was almost double the provincial average in 2020. Dr. Piggott said one of the reasons for that is the absence of a local supervised drug consumption site. “Many other communities of a similar size do have them in their location, where people can go and lives are saved through prevention,” he said. “That is the biggest gap.”
Meanwhile, there are questions about whether the Doug Ford government will approve funding for Peterborough’s proposed site in the lead up to the provincial election, which is less than five months away.
Ford’s Progressive Conservative government previously cut funding to some supervised drug consumption sites and limited the number it will fund province-wide.
“When we’re talking about saving lives, politics shouldn’t be part of the conversation,” Kightley said.
“So, we still are waiting for funding from the province,” Kightley said. “But I think that we’re waiting by taking action.”