NORTH BAY -- North Bay's Community drug strategy committee and the AIDS committee is looking creating one of Ontario’s first safe supply sites for drug users.

Under the plan, pharmacies and clinicians would give drug users safer prescription versions of illicit drugs, such as opioids, with an eye on harm reduction. The goal is to prevent overdoses, which are often the result of addicts taking street drugs that could be much more potent than they expect, or mixed with even more dangerous compounds.

“People are falling through the cracks and they're dying,” said Meagan Deutekom, AIDS committee of North Bay Hepatitis C community coordinator. “So, the benefits of the program would be an addition to already existing programs."

The drug strategy committee and AIDS committee are working on a proposal to the Ministry of Health. Officials said the program is an opportunity to eradicate dangerous street drugs, which are sometimes laced with other toxic substances.

'They're toxic'

"They're toxic and they're not supervised,” said Deutekom. "They're getting these drugs off the streets. If you give people a safer supply, it helps stabilize their lives."

A safe supply program is distinct from a safe consumption site, where users bring their own drugs and use them in front of trained staff, who step in if there's an overdose. The program is not an addiction treatment, but instead looks at a harm reduction approach.

At the beginning of 2020, Ontario overtook British Columbia for the dubious distinction of having the highest overdose rates in Canada.

“People, at this point, are demanding solutions to this issue,” said Scott Robertson, a North Bay city councillor. “A lot of us have a lot of social biases and a lot of cultural biases wrapped around people who use drugs."

Harm reduction

Robertson said a harm reduction approach is needed if the city wants to get a grip on the drug epidemic.

"It's my perspective that if we want solutions to these problems, we need to be willing to do things differently and to make bold reforms to the issues," he said.

Critics of the program say they fear an increase in crime and violence from more drugs in use. But the AIDS committee said research shows safe supply programs are actually reducing crime.

Before a safe supply program is approved, the AIDS committee would need approval from the community. Other communities with a safe supply program include: London, Toronto and Ottawa.