SUDBURY -- As the opioid crisis continues to claim lives across Ontario. Ontario mayors are calling for upper levels of government to decriminalize some substances to help combat addiction.

The Ontario Drug Policy Research Network reported 2,426 opioid-related deaths in 2020, a 60 per cent increase over 2019, making 2020 the worst year on record since tracking began.

“(The) numbers of people that are losing their lives because of these addiction challenges have doubled from 2019 to 2020,” said Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger.

Bigger is a part of Ontario’s Big City Mayors (OBCM), a group that represents nearly 70 per cent of the province's population. Recently, the group put out a call to both the federal and provincial governments to decriminalize controlled substances and continue with the creation and funding of mental health crisis response units.

“I’m in favour of a compassionate response and support for people that are struggling with addictions and mental health," Bigger said. "This is the motion that has been brought forward and obviously intended to start conversations with the province and federal government that potentially would change policy in the future.”

Sudbury already has mental health crisis response teams on the ground, as do many other cities in the province, but funding will dry up in about a year.

The OBCM wants the teams to be mandated province-wide with the necessary funding to ensure its success.

“It’s all about getting provincial funding that is reliable and predictable and sustained for these services that are so much required,” said Bigger.

He said the teams, combined with decriminalizing controlled substances, is just part of a much larger picture that will hopefully someday end the opioid crisis for good.

“We’ve approved funding for transitional housing with significant supports," Bigger said. "We’ve supported programs that will provide treatment. Everything is leading to providing … the basic adequate supports for people with addiction challenges and mental health issues and looking at how we can encourage the province to turn their focus on these challenges and make the critical investments.”

To learn more about the OBCM’s call for action, click here.