SUDBURY -- As the world deals with the COVID-19 crisis, a report released Monday says Greater Sudbury would benefit from a supervised consumption site in the battle with the opioid crisis.

The study's conclusions were endorsed by Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, medical officer of health, and Greater Sudbury Police Chief Paul Pederson, co-chairs of the Community Drug Strategy.

The study took 11 months to complete and is a necessary process before upper levels of government permit such a site to open. You can read the full report here.

Formally known as a needs assessment and feasibility study, the findings are a required step before asking for a federal exemption under Health Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. A letter of support from city council is also required for the provincial approval processes.

Almost 60 per cent of residents surveyed said they thought the idea would help with the crisis, but the location was a common concern.

"The most common suggestion for a location was centralized in the downtown core, in proximity to, and integrated with, existing harm reduction services and the majority of health care and social services," the report said.

“The study is a critical step in determining how consumption services could help put the brakes on the significant and growing health harms related to substance use in the city," Sutcliffe is quoted as saying in a news release. "It combines the voices of our community along with careful data analysis and ensures that those most affected by substance use are heard.

"The findings are even more timely given the numerous reports from across Canada that show the opioid crisis has intensified through the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“The findings of the study indicate that the rates of illicit drug use continue to be higher in Greater Sudbury than those for Ontario overall and that supervised consumption services could form part of our comprehensive strategy to address substance use in our community,” Pedersen said in the release.

“The Community Drug Strategy will continue to work on appropriate and effective solutions tailored for our community.”

Supervised consumption services – formally known as safe injection sites -- are part of a multi-pronged approach to address the harms to substance use.

The study was completed between April 2019 and June 2020 and includes a survey with people who inject drugs, a survey of Greater Sudbury residents, focus groups with community partners and stakeholders, and secondary data analysis.

Sudbury and districts is ranked 12th in the province for opioid-related emergency department visits, seventh in the province for confirmed opioid-related deaths, and 10th for hospitalizations, based on rates per 1,000 population.

The frequency of emergency medical service calls for suspected opioid overdose have more than double in 2019 compared with 2018. Three-quarters of respondents from the survey of people who inject drugs said they had injected drugs in public. More than half had overdosed in their lifetime.

"From the perspectives of law enforcement and health care providers, drug and substance use creates pressures on social services, police, paramedic, and hospitals," the release said.

"The need for EMS workers and police officers at overdose sites means that they are pulled away from other community needs."

More on the study:

  • Eighty-nine per cent of potential clients say they would use supervised consumption services, if available.
  • Among those who would use the site, their single most important benefit was access to sterile injection equipment, and that overdoses can be prevented or treated.
  • Concerns about anonymity and fear of police were noted by some and others indicated they were self-sufficient and not in need of these services.
  • A total of 2,251 residents completed an online survey, with 59.8 per cent saying these services would help, while 33.6 per cent did not and 6.1 per cent were neutral or unsure.
  • Potential benefits include less public drug use on streets or in parks, fewer used needles on the streets or in parks, and less risk of injury and death from drug overdose.
  • Concerns were related to neighbourhood safety, an increase in crime and drug use, and more drug dealers targeting the area.
  • Thirteen focus groups were held, incorporating feedback from 52 community partners, including participants from health and social services agencies, the business community, and local community organizations.