The issue of opioid addiction and how to effectively deal with this epidemic is complex. It is a personal issue, a family issue and a community concern that creates a strain on our health care and social service supports. It demands a coordinated and multilayered response.
The information gathered by the Region and more investigation I have made personally, I find possible solutions and additional questions that demand answers. However, insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results. We have examples of other communities where attempts have been made to address the very concerns we face in Waterloo Region.
Inaction is not an option in my opinion.
There are important decisions that need to be made in the face of some disturbing facts:
- Calls to Waterloo Regional Paramedic Services continue to rise 17% over last year
- Waterloo Region 2016 reported 38 opioid related deaths
- Waterloo Region 2017 reported 71 suspected opioid deaths
- In Waterloo region there is a death every 4 days
- In Waterloo Region 3,919 is the number of estimated injection drug users
- Waterloo Regional police report that Carfentanil seizures are now outpacing fentanyl seizures
- In Toronto, Moss Park and Riverdale have a demonstrated track record of confronting the associated drug periphenilia; conflict with nearby businesses; providing housing options; drug treatment programs and healthcare supports
At a community consultation in Cambridge, the discussion was civil and mainly balanced. The majority of citizens expressed a desire to help drug users and find a workable solution. One of the final interventions was made by a youth who purported to be a lifelong Cambridge resident with lived injection drug use. He simply stated that he had no intention of going anywhere and would be a presence in the downtown area irrespective of what decisions were made.
The squatters’ tent cities, the public disturbances and calls to emergency services will not spontaneously subside without comprehensive action.
Moss Park in Toronto began as a reaction to an extreme threat to the quality of life around this area of Toronto. The drug use in the Park was spilling over to the surrounded businesses and residents. It was an unsanctioned volunteer run service that started in a tent. When I visited the facility it was housed in a trailer with no water or plumbing facilities. Two hundred volunteers make sure that the facility is open six hours Monday to Friday. There were people walking their dogs in a park where regular people previously avoided due to the discarded needles. There was a mailbox size bright yellow metal container to hold the discarded drug paraphernalia that the volunteer staff (from the SIS facility as well as Toronto City workers) pick up on a daily basis. A key component to the success of Moss Park is the regular participation of volunteers with lived drug dependence experience who are there to provide peer to peer consultation.
The Safe Injection Services at Riverdale are located in a sanctioned facility where there are extensive services. A variety of reasons could explain why someone might go to Riverdale. The vast majority of the patrons of this facility are within a several block radius. Additionally, there are daily injectable drug users who work and travel to this facility. When they procure a new supply of drugs or supplier, they come to Riverdale to use an initial time in a safe environment in case they overdose or there is carfentanil in their untested drugs.
When considering possible locations for a safe injection services, the minimum requirements for approvals from the Federal and Provincial governments drive the analyses. The Federal Government needs approve an application for exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) and the provincial application for funding to operate supervised consumption services.
One of the connective pieces in the success of Riverdale Centre is the representation of the local business association. Businesses reported relief of having a board member with whom to connect if people were hanging out in their coffee shop or shooting up in their bookstore washroom. They also reported when needles were near their stores and were confident that someone responded in a short time and not several days later as was the previous situation with the City of Toronto.
The citizens throughout the Region and the businesses need to have a say. All are equally valuable and deserve a concerted effort. No identified area should be relegated to being an under-serviced area. How many lives will be lost if we delay?