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Drug toxicity is a public health crisis, and a CTS is part of the response

Jun 15, 2023

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By Dr. Lisa Simon, Associate Medical Officer of Health

Many communities are experiencing a drug toxicity crisis and the City of Barrie is no exception. In 2022, Barrie had the third highest rate of opioid-related deaths amongst Ontario’s large municipalities (population of 100,000 or more). Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, communities across the country saw dramatic increases in these deaths. In 2022, 60 opioid poisoning deaths occurred in Barrie, about double the amount seen prior to the pandemic – when we were already experiencing alarming numbers – and more than double the provincial average. More than half of those 60 people were young adults between 20-44 years of age, and all left behind grieving families, friends, and communities. 

Opioid-related deaths in Canada have risen dramatically since 2016, mostly due to the illegal and unregulated drug supply. This supply is unpredictable and becoming increasingly toxic. In particular, deaths continue to be driven mostly by fentanyl. It is not uncommon for other fillers and substances to be included in the drug supply, such as benzodiazepines, that multiply the effects on the body and further increase a person’s risk of a fatal opioid poisoning.

Harm reduction strategies for substance use help to reduce harm in people who use substances. Some of these strategies include the distribution of naloxone that can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid poisoning, needle exchange programs, drug checking services that test samples of the local unregulated drug supply, and consumption and treatment services (CTS) sites. These strategies are effective and for many years the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit has provided needle exchange and naloxone programming throughout our region.

Consumption and treatment services sites can help save lives and contribute to safer communities by providing a safe and clean space for people to use their own substances under the care of trained staff. They offer services that are respectful of the person and connect them to addictions treatment, mental health care, primary care, housing, and other social supports. A CTS site can also provide drug checking services and counselling that can help an individual make an informed decision about their planned use of a substance.

CTS sites have operated in Canada and internationally for several decades and consistent evidence shows their positive outcomes. CTS sites have proven to help prevent deaths and hospital visits related to drug poisonings, and to increase uptake of addiction treatment and other health and social services. CTS sites have been shown to not increase crime, but instead improve public order and safety by reducing the presence of discarded needles and drug paraphernalia as well as reducing public drug use.

In October 2021, after two years of collaborative efforts and consultations, the Canadian Mental Health Association Simcoe County Branch (CMHA-SCB) applied to both Health Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Health for a CTS site at 11 Innisfil Street in Barrie. In September 2022, Health Canada approved the application by granting an exemption to section 56.1 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, however we continue to await the Ministry of Health’s approval and funding decision.

The health unit continues to be a strong supporter of the current CTS application for Barrie. We believe that a CTS site in Barrie will help save lives and connect people to many vital services in their local community, and we believe that the broader community will benefit. For more information about the CTS application please visit the SMDHU Consumption and Treatment Services webpage.

Dr. Lisa Simon is an Associate Medical Officer of Health at the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit. Her interests and primary responsibilities are in the areas of substance use prevention and harm reduction, chronic disease prevention, child health, and health equity.

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