Pubdate: Tue, 19 Sep 2017
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The London Free Press
Author: Megan Stacey
Page: 3


While politicians were busy debating whether to create a new group to
deal with an opioid crisis, community agencies went ahead and formed
it themselves.

That created a confusing conversation at a city hall committee on
Monday night, when politicians debated the opioid crisis working group
for the third time since Aug. 1.

But third time's the charm. Originally, Mayor Matt Brown asked council
to establish the group, billed as a task force that would help address
the opioid crisis that's killing dozens of Londoners each year.

Recent statistics showed that London has the third highest rate of
hospitalizations per capita for opioid overdoses in the country.

Community groups that support people who use drugs weren't willing to
wait for the politicians to catch up.

The group was formed weeks ago with members such as the health unit,
London police, the London InterCommunity Health Centre, and the chief
executive of the Local Health Integration Network.

"It is up and running," Mayor Matt Brown told his colleagues. "Members
of the working group have expressed that it's important they get
council's support."

Politicians on the strategic priorities and policy committee decided
to endorse the group, instead of creating it.

The key focus of the new working group is supervised consumption
sites, also known as supervised drug injection sites, where Londoners
who use drugs can go to access clean equipment and inject under
medical supervision.

"It's about walking alongside people who have drug addictions," said
Chris Mackie, medical officer of health at the Middlesex-London Health
Unit, in a presentation to politicians.

"If we are going to tackle the issues of drug addiction in our
community, we are going to have to address the stigma we all carry
about people who are addicted."

A nurse is on site with life-saving medication like naloxone that can
block the affects of opioids in the case of an overdose, he said, and
users have access to a "chill room" where they can ride out their high.

That's why Mackie, Brown, and dozens of frontline workers who packed
the gallery Monday night, wanted the working group, which would begin
public consultation required for supervised injection sites.

Politicians voted unanimously - minus Coun. Stephen Turner, who
declared a conflict because he works for the health unit - to support
the working group. The recommendation also asks members to report back
on their work and relationship to other drug-focused groups.

"There are multiple drug crises going on in our community at this
time. The difference with this one is that people are dying at a
really high rate," said Coun. Maureen Cassidy.

Public consultation has to be done before the city could receive the
federal exemption needed to open a supervised injection site, making
the role of this group "absolutely necessary," Mackie said.
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