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Friday, January 12, 2018

Health Unit and Partners Prepare to Take Next Step in Local Opioid Crisis Fight

Earlier today, the Middlesex-London Health Unit and its partners submitted the first application for a Temporary Overdose Prevention Site (TOPS) in Ontario. With data gathered during public consultations and the recent acknowledgement of a provincial public health emergency, this will herald the next phase of the local drug crisis fight.

The Minister of Health and Long-Term Care’s recognition last month of a public health emergency enables the operation of TOPSs in Ontario, which will prevent deaths by allowing drugs to be consumed in a safer environment.

Initial data from recent public consultations in London about Supervised Consumption Facilities (SCFs) indicates the importance of having integrated services linking to wraparound support, treatment and rehabilitation. Key benefits of SCFs, including reducing the risk of injury and death, as well as linking people who use drugs to the services they need, were also identified at the public meetings. The consultation process also highlighted challenges, including the need for adequate funding for SCFs and that, if not run well, such facilities may have a negative impact on the community’s reputation.

“Temporary Overdose Prevention Sites, and even the more permanent Supervised Consumption Facilities, are not going to end the drug crisis. Londoners clearly recognize that, and want these facilities to offer links with other services,” says Dr. Christopher Mackie, Medical Officer of Health and CEO of the Middlesex-London Health Unit. “With the input of neighbourhoods where the need is greatest, combined with new tools that will allow us to begin this work, we are now closer to being able to implement solutions for those at greatest risk.”

While the establishment of SCFs is still months away, acknowledgement of the public health emergency clears the way for temporary services to be established urgently. The search for a suitable TOPS location began as an immediate response to the provincial announcement. The Health Unit and its partners expect to make an announcement about the location of the site, which will be in downtown London, in the coming days.

“This is a life and death matter and I am pleased with the provincial announcement to support immediate opening of Temporary Overdose Prevention Sites,” says Sonja Burke, Director of Counterpoint Harm Reduction Services at Regional HIV/AIDS Connection. “This recognizes that every life is valuable and harm reduction is a critical part of the addictions continuum.”

Support from partner agencies has been strong. Organizations that have committed to providing additional services within the TOPS include: Southwestern Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre; Regional HIV/Aids Connection; London CAReS; Addictions Services of Thames Valley; London Intercommunity Health Centre; and the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Data released in December 2017 by the Public Health Agency of Canada indicates that the opioid crisis in Canada continues to worsen. In the first half of 2017, at least 1,460 people died due to opioid-related overdoses; the number could rise to more than 4,000 once year-end data is analysed, greatly exceeding the 2,861 deaths recorded in 2016.

For more information about opioid drugs and the local crisis, visit www.healthunit.com/opioids.

Media Contact:

Alex Tyml
Online Communications Coordinator
Middlesex-London Health Unit
519-663-5317 ext 2560 or 226-236-1941
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