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Toxic drug summit wraps up in Sudbury

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An inaugural conference focused on finding solutions to the toxic drug crisis in northern Ontario wrapped up in Greater Sudbury on Friday.

Organized by Public Health Sudbury and Districts, the City of Greater Sudbury and other organizations, the two-day conference sought to find solutions and reduce stigma.

Roughly 200 community leaders attended, with 35 speakers including industry experts, frontline workers and individuals with lived or living experience.

Sudbury Mayor Paul Lefebvre said the summit was about collaboration.

"There's members of the community who think it is easily fixed. It is not," Lefebvre said.

"This is a crisis, it's not just Sudbury, it's across Canada, North America, and that’s why these collaborations are the only way we can work together to find solutions."

Organized by Public Health Sudbury and Districts, the City of Greater Sudbury and other organizations, the two-day conference sought to find solutions and reduce stigma. Roughly 200 community leaders attended, with 35 speakers including industry experts, frontline workers and individuals with lived or living experience. (Amanda Hicks/CTV News)

In Sudbury, opioid-related deaths are three times the provincial average. The number of people dying from opioid toxicity increased by more than 500 per cent from 2017 to 2020, with accidental overdoses the leading cause of death in people under the age of 50.

Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, medical officer of health, said it's a crisis that's worsening, rather than improving.

"It’s a very complex issue and if there was an easy solution we would have found it by now," Sutcliffe said.

"We could do what somebody else is doing, but really having an opportunity for people to meet together, people who are usually not in the same room as each other."

Sutcliffe said the summit was emotional at times, saying the structure was to address the head and the heart.

"The head was about the statistics, the services and the more concrete facts if you will," she said.

"The heart was about hearing about the impact on people. People with lived experience and people who provide assistance."

Sutcliffe said a focus of the summit was reducing stigma.

Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, medical officer of health, said it's a crisis that's worsening, rather than improving. (Photo from video)

"We talked about structural stigma, how can we ask questions within our own organizations to really understand how our practices, not because we want them to be, but they end up being stigmatizing," she said.

James Gough was a speaker at the event, sharing his story about opioid addiction following an HIV diagnosis more than two decades ago.

"I had to take two handfuls of pills a day and now they’ve got me down to one pill a day, and now they have an injection that’s bi-monthly," Gough said.

As a social activist, Gough said another focus of his speech was calling for enhanced harm reduction methods, including supervised consumption sites.

TSUNAMI OF GRIEF

"The amount of grief, that’s a tsunami that’s overwhelming the whole country, it's crazy the amount of people that are dying," he said.

"We need supervised consumption sites. We need the province to fund (Sudbury’s site) The Spot."

The Spot recently received funding from Vale after the province froze its review of funding applications and city support was to run out by the end of December.

Run by Réseau Access Network, the site put in its application for funding more than two years ago but hasn't heard back from the province.

Gough said his main takeaway from the summit was so many people want to help.

"I was overwhelmed by the amount of people that want to help, the amount of community members that want something done to help addicts," he said.

"As an opioid addict, I was amazed by the amount of people that want a solution to this and want to see people treated with dignity, and the deaths need to stop."

In 2024, Public Health Sudbury and Districts will share a final report detailing decisions, discussions and next steps. 

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