Pubdate: Wed, 20 Dec 2017
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The London Free Press
Author: Jennifer Bieman
Page: A1


In the wake of a deadly opioid drug crisis that's killed hundreds in
Ontario, London health officials are fast-tracking a pop-up,
- -overdose-prevention site they want to have up and running by January.

The stripped-down version of a supervised consumption site will give
drug users a safer environment to inject. The location of the site, or
the total number if there is more than one, hasn't been pinned down.
But the plan is to have at least one as early as possible in 2018.

The move comes amid a mounting toll from opioid drugs, including the
powerful painkiller fentanyl - up to 100 times more potent than
morphine - that's taken lives in the area and was at the root of a
rare joint warning by police and health officials in August about the
risks of contaminated street drugs.

"It's really a public health emergency or crisis," Brian Lester,
executive director of the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection, the agency
that operates the city's needle exchange program, said Tuesday.

"This is about preventing people from dying and it requires an urgent

After a rash of opioid deaths, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins
asked the federal government to allow the province to open the
temporary overdose prevention sites.

Ontario has secured the green light from the feds, said
Middlesex-London medical officer of health Chris Mackie, opening the
door for cities to apply for a site of their own. The Middlesex-London
Health Unit plans to submit its application to the province in January.

"They've committed to a 14-day turnaround," said Mackie, who hopes for
a January launch.

"We're pretty excited about that. We think it is a really important

The pop-up locations aren't meant to be long-term sites or to replace
supervised facilities.

Instead, Mackie said the sites would only be open for three to six
months, but could be renewed.

When open, such a site would have clean needles, the opioid overdose
antidote naloxone, and supervision for drug users.

"This is service that will help those most at risk of overdosing
receive the supports that they need," said Lester. "It's a more
short-term intervention."

Though referrals to addiction treatment will be available, the pop-up
locations put less focus on wrap-around supports, brochures,
counselling and connecting addicts with outside resources.

London is still moving ahead with plans for a permanent supervised
drug consumption site, a highly regulated - and often contentious -
process many months in the making.

The proposal has raised concerns from businesses in downtown and in
Old East Village, two areas highlighted as potential locations.

Though it's a separate project, Mackie said the team getting the
pop-up facility off the ground will draw on some of the facts and
public feedback uncovered through the safe injection site process.

Mackie said some of the same areas where a supervised consumption site
might go - downtown, Old East Village, SoHo and Hamilton Road - are
also potential locations for a temporary overdose-prevention site.

The public has a right to know as quickly as possible the key details,
including locations, said Ward 6 Coun. Phil Squire.

"The devil is in the details," he said. "It's important that when you
put something like this out, that you immediately or pretty soon after
provide some more details. People will be asking questions."

While Squire said he recognizes the opioid crisis needs urgent action,
he doesn't want to see a hasty response. He said the long and
strenuous process to refine possible supervised consumption sites - 10
public hearings were held last month - is that way for a reason.

In Southwestern Ontario, opioids used on the street -triggered rare
public health and police -warnings this summer, including in London
and Sarnia, where a rash of three drug overdoses in mere hours left
one -person dead. Cocaine contaminated with fentanyl was the suspected

Even the volume of legally prescribed opioids has raised eyebrows,
with a recent report suggesting some areas of Southwestern Ontario -
Sarnia-Lambton, Chatham-Kent, Elgin County and Windsor-Essex - run
some of the province's highest rates of opioid drug

Last month, London police issued a public warning after potentially
deadly carfentanil - a synthetic opioid 10,000 times more powerful
than morphine - was found in seized drugs. Fentanyl and carfentanil
can be mixed into other drugs, such as heroin and crystal meth.

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Supervised drug consumption sites

Permanent, long-term Medical supervision for drug users Long process
required for federal approval, including wide public consultation
Heavy focus on addiction treatment and support services Offer
harm-reduction, public health benefits Overdose-prevention sites
Temporary, short-term, open as long as six months Provinces in crisis
can apply for federal approval to open Provide supervision, possibly
by first-aid or naloxone-trained staff, for drug users Focus on
overdose prevention; limited emphasis on addiction or support services
Meant as emergency stop-gap to curb opioid deaths, injuries
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