Plans to open a temporary overdose prevention site in Peterborough appear to be on hold while local social service agencies wait to learn how the new provincial government will respond to the opioid crisis.
PARN, the local agency leading Peterborough’s harm reduction efforts, announced in March that, with the support of Peterborough Public Health and the Peterborough Police, it would apply for funding to open an overdose prevention site in the city. But the application was not made before the provincial election started, and now it’s unclear whether the new government will support the program.
“We’re sort of in limbo until we hear what the PCs’ strategy with regard to the opioid crisis is, which still remains to be seen,” said Chris Jardin, harm reduction coordinator at PARN, in an interview last month.
The Liberal government in Ontario made it possible to open temporary overdose prevention sites in January 2018, and a handful of cities in the province have done so.
Permanent safe injection sites are federally sanctioned and regulated, and require a stringent and time-consuming application process. The provincially sanctioned sites were easier to open, but Jardin says a location wasn’t found before the election was called.
“When the election was called, we were in the midst of working on a location, and then the writ dropped and put everything on hiatus,” Jardin said.
While the new PC government has yet to formally outline how it will approach the opioid crisis, Premier Doug Ford has regularly spoken out against safe injection sites, including during the recent campaign.
Jardin says that there is significant research showing that safe injection sites reduce the number of overdose deaths in the communities they serve, and increase the rates of successful drug treatment.
He says that, in addition to preventing unnecessary overdose deaths, the sites serve as a space where drug users can make connections and build relationships that can help them through the treatment process when they are ready to pursue that.
“One of the central underlying features to anyone’s relationship with substance use is connection, or lack of connection,” Jardin says. If that connection is lacking, “often people turn to substance use to address some of those gaps in their lives.
“When you address that connection, it leads to much more sustainable and effective health outcomes.”