Sudbury city staff directed to get involved in consumption site issue
SUDBURY -- A supervised drug consumption site was one of the big topics in Tuesday night's city council meeting in Greater Sudbury, in particular, councillors were told why the city appears to be hitting a 'wall' in its efforts to make it a reality.
Members of the Community Drug Strategy made a presentation to council members on their latest efforts and difficulties.
In particular, council members delved into the issue of why the group has been unable to make any progress in finding a site.
"Substance issues impact everyone. I know the focus is on downtown, but this spans not only the city of Greater Sudbury but it spans the province and spans the nation," Greater Sudbury Police Service Chief Paul Pedersen said. "We definitely know that council understands this is a community crisis and it requires our collective, full attention right now."
He said the city has been "fantastic" strategic partners with Steve Jacques and Tyler Campbell.
"This is a call sounding an alarm because we need that partnership to continue through council and through council's support to secure a location for supervised consumption and treatment services -- this is a critical component of a multi-pronged approach," he said.
CTV News requested an interview with Pedersen, who declined, but sent the following statement in part, saying:
"The highest rates of opioid-related deaths during the course of the pandemic have occurred in Sudbury & Districts, among other public health units – Sudbury urgently needs a downtown location integrated with existing harm reduction, health and social service."
Sudbury Medical Officer of Health Dr. Penny Sutcliffe told councillors there's been a steep increase in the amount of opioid-related death since the start of the pandemic.
"The northeast is really disproportionately impacted by the opioid crisis. The study found over half of Ontario's health units saw an increase in the rates of death related to opioids. But tragically, the highest rates of death have occurred in northeastern Ontario, including Sudbury and District, Porcupine and Algoma," Sutcliffe said.
"There is no one-bullet, magic, quick solution and there is a need for everyone to do everything that they can individually and collectively. There is a need for immediate, medium, and long-term strategies."
Among the many requirements for a supervised consumption site, Public Health Sudbury and Districts said it needs at least 2,500 square feet, accessibility for paramedics, zoned for office use, and support from nearby businesses and neighbours.
The team has so far looked at 12 sites in the downtown core and none of them were deemed feasible or able to meet the needs for supervised consumption.
"The primary frustrations included non-accessible space, most notably 'not-in-my-backyard' syndrome and not being able to locate space in the downtown core," said Richard Rainville, of Reseau Access Network.
"The majority of accidental overdoses occur indoors and in private dwellings," said Pedersen. "It's important that we understand those aren't always the homes of the users, they may be the homes of others where individuals have gone to get off the street and out of the public eye or homes that are being used temporarily."
Reducing stigma around drug use is very important, he said, people have to feel to get treatment.
"We're asking for your support -- which we know we have -- but we're also asking that that support turns into direction that commits to looking for what we don't know might exist," Pedersen said. "We don't know about city facilities, locations, moving of services. We don't know about rezoning that may be possible. We really don't know about future plans."
Greater Sudbury City Councillor Rene Lapierre, a paramedic by training himself, tabled a motion to help provide that direction by asking city staff to work with the drug strategy group to assess properties that could potentially host the new supervised consumption site. He's hopeful it will eliminate some of that extra time that's being used to examine areas. The motion passed unanimously.
"This is much more than an alarm," he told CTV News. "We have to raise fog horns, we have to yell it from the treetops and every bell that we can ring. We have a lot of people dying and more than just dying, we have a lot of people on top of that who are being affected."
The Ward 6 councillor said the fact that the city has one of the highest rates of overdose is not a list you want to be on the top of.
"It goes to show that much more the importance of being able to find a locale for a safe consumption site or supervised consumption site, as well as other services that come with this for transitional help," Lapierre said.
His motion instructs staff to come back to the June 15 council meeting with an update on the work that's being undertaken.
He said city staff members are extremely busy, but this motion lets them know that council wants this made a priority.
"I'm optimistic that there will be solutions. I don't know that staff and the Community Drug Strategy will come back and say 'we found a solution,' but they may be able to come back and say 'here are some other places that we're investigating that we didn't have access to,' And there will be more information to maybe empty properties and others, so this committee, who doesn't have access to all the information can work with multiple members from the city," Lapierre explained.
In the meantime, the Sudbury Temporary Overdose Prevention Society (STOPS), the Sudbury group behind the city's unsanctioned supervised site received a letter telling it to stop its efforts on city property, in particular the garage at the YMCA.
Ward 5 Councillor Robert Kirwan asked the other members of the council if they could turn a blind eye to the group's efforts until they can make the site a reality.
Sutcliffe said it was possible to get an exemption from Health Canada based on the urgent, medical need.
"While it's unsanctioned, it is doing something for the people who need overdose protection," Kirwan said. "If it's going to take us a while to put up a permanent site, I think we should be applying to the federal government for an exemption."
He said he'd like to see city staff find a good spot for STOPS to operate and for the city to help facilitate them by bringing in trailers and getting them out of the tents.
"Let's make it easier for the people to come and get the assistance that the volunteers can offer," Kirwan said. "Until we get permission to do it right, let's do what we can."