Pubdate: Fri, 26 Jan 2018
Source: Windsor Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2018 The Windsor Star
Author: Brian Cross
Page: A1


Health unit under fire for perceived lack of urgency in pursuing
provincial funds

Matt Cascadden, who lost seven friends last year to the raging opioid
epidemic, is convinced a safe injection site in Windsor would save
many lives.

"It should be pushed, I think we need it big time, now," the
36-year-old Windsor man and former drug user said Thursday.

Now living in a downtown residence, Cascadden contemplated the impact
such a centre - part of an overdose prevention site currently being
offered by the Ontario government - would have on the growing number
of addicts who shoot up in parks, alleys and backyards.

"It's bad out there, and I can tell you people are hurting," he said,
predicting an overdose prevention site would be well used, prevent
overdose deaths and pave the way for addicts to seek help.

"In more ways than one, it's promoting more safety."

Local groups, on the front lines of a local epidemic that's markedly
worse than the Ontario-wide crisis, are moving forward on the issue.

The big component of an overdose prevention centre is the safe
injection site, where drug users can bring their drugs and inject
themselves in the presence of medical staff, using new needles and
other products to prevent infection and the spread of bloodborne
diseases, and with naloxone available in case of an overdose.

This region's rising opioid-related death rate recently hit 9.1 per
100,000 population, which is 46 per cent higher than the provincial
rate. And our rates of opioid use, opioid prescriptions and related
emergency department visits are all close to the top in the province.

The government invited applications for overdose prevention centres
two weeks ago - offering from $61,100 to $368,700 to fund temporary
programs that will last three or six months, with the possibility of

"When you're in an emergency situation and the government is offering
that, you'd have to be insane not to take advantage. What is your
reason not to?" asked Byron Klingbyle, the harm reduction coordinator
with the AIDS Committee of Windsor.

He said he's frustrated by the apparent lack of urgency displayed by
the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, which last week hosted a news
conference to announce a four-pillar opioids strategy. Klingbyle said
the time for studies is over. The opioids crisis is obvious and dire,
so the AIDS Committee is in the process of applying for a site.

"It might not be pretty, but it will be better than what's there now,"
he said. "What's worse? Do you want people coming to this site and
doing drugs safely, not overdosing and disposing of the needles
safely? Or, because they're already there, do you want them in your
backyard, in your alley or your garage, overdosing and dying there?"

Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bortolin also expressed frustration with the health
unit's response to the overdose prevention site offer from the province.

"If you need any convincing, come for a walk with me on a summer day
and I can show you 10 different injection sites and you can make up
your own mind," he said.

But acting medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed disputed
suggestions his health unit is responding slowly to the crisis.

"We're not opposed to a supervised injection site or any OPS site, we
just want to make sure we do our due diligence in finding out what is
needed to make that decision for our community," he said Thursday.

He said the health unit has been "actively talking to our community
partners" about applying for an overdose prevention site. However, it
would be another agency like the AIDS Committee or the Windsor Essex
Community Health Centre that would make the application and host the

"We are definitely talking towards making that a reality," Ahmed said.
"I think our community would benefit from it."

The government issued an invitation for applications on Jan. 11.
Health Minister Eric Hoskins said the sites "have proven to save lives
by offering necessary health services to some of the most vulnerable
and marginalized populations."

To date, the Health Ministry has approved one overdose prevention
site, in London. The application was submitted by Middlesex/London
Health Unit. A ministry spokesman said there are several other
communities looking into applying.

Patrick Brown, executive director of the community health centre,
which runs the Street Health program in the downtown, is also mulling
making an application, though there's a lack of space at Street Health
and he wouldn't want two organizations making separate applications.
He said a number of local agencies including the health unit are
collaborating on solutions.

"There is urgency around this, absolutely, and we're working
diligently on this matter," said Brown, who said his community health
centre would be "well positioned" to run a site, due to the multiple
health professionals - nurses, nurse practitioners, dietitians,
counsellors - who have experience working with the population that
would use one.

An overdose prevention site would help stop the spread of diseases
like hepatitis C and HIV by providing new needles, tourniquets and
alcohol swabs. It would also reduce accidental overdoses because there
would be a health professional monitoring people as they take their

There would be naloxone available in case of an overdose. And advice
would be available to anyone seeking help.

The opening of a site in Toronto last year has saved a number of
lives, said Brown.

One possible roadblock to an OPS is that people living near the
location might oppose it, but Bortolin said he's talked to many
residents living near the areas of rampant drug use in the downtown
who would welcome it.

"Because, like it or not, (drug users) already inject in their alleys
or backyards or wherever."

Brandon Boldt's Bruce Avenue house backs onto Bruce Park. He regularly
looks out to see people injecting drugs and often finds discarded
needles. A former resident of Vancouver, where a safe injection site
has been operating for years, he said there's no question an OPS would
help both drug users and downtown residents.

"I have three boys five and under, so it's a huge deal for me, I don't
want to have to worry about going to the park to check every nook and
cranny to make sure it's safe to walk around," he said.

He added that the community should face the opioids problem head-on
with measures like an overdose prevention site.

"I'm all for it," said Boldt. "I think it's the responsible thing to
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