Southwestern Public Health has initiated a feasibility study to look at consumption and treatment services in the region.
The study will determine the need, support and practicality of consumption and treatment services like safe consumption sites in the health unit’s region. The area the health unit covers is St. Thomas, Elgin County and Oxford County.
The federal government says mandatory services for consumption and treatment services include a supervised consumption area, onsite or defined pathways for addictions treatment, wrap-around services for primary care, mental health and social supports and harm reduction services.
There must also be distribution and disposal spots for harm reduction supplies and naloxone and oxygen supplies, something Southwestern Public Health (SWPH) already provides. SWPH also has a community drug strategy for Elgin and Oxford County to address drugs, including opioids, with a variety of components and approaches.
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Dr. Ninh Tran, medical officer of health for SWPH, says the issue of overdoses and opioid-related deaths is not going away.
“We in Southwestern Public Health, similar to many of the jurisdictions in Ontario and North America, are facing an opioid overdose and toxicity poisoning crisis,” Tran tells Global News.
Public data shows there were a combined 90 opioid-related deaths in 2021 and 2022 in SWPH’s region. That is a sharp increase from the combined 44 opioid-related deaths in 2019 and 2020.
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Further, local health officials say the rate of opioid-related deaths in SWPH is slightly higher than in the rest of the province.
Tran says that other communities have explored or currently offer consumption and treatment services, and the study is the first step in determining the value of such a service.
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London, Ont., currently has a temporarily supervised consumption site working out of a trailer at 446 York St.
Regional HIV/AIDS Connection says the permanent Carepoint consumption and treatment service is expected to begin operating out of the same location as the trailer by the end of February.
To focus the SWPH study, Tran says there will be an emphasis on three main areas: if the service will be used; if there is general support in the community for it; and what the service would look like.
“This is absolutely critical for us to explore,” Tran says. “We really have to see what the community wants, including those with lived experiences.”
SWPH has formed an external advisory committee to consult with local figures from various sectors. Those consulted will include emergency services, healthcare providers, people with lived experience of substance use and community agencies. Along with the consultations, focus groups have formed local community partners.
“Ultimately, we want to find something through this process that is actionable and helps address this crisis,” said Tran.
A survey will also be available on SWPH’s website for residents of St. Thomas, Elgin County and Oxford County later this month for residents to share their opinion.
Health officials say they hope to have all the information recorded by March with a report published later this year.
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