THUNDER BAY — The Ontario government has put a hold on its endorsement of a temporary overdose-prevention site proposed for the Norwest Community Health Centre.
As recently as July 27, officials at Norwest had said the facility would open "sometime soon," since it had already received provincial approval.
However, Health Minister Christine Elliott says the Thunder Bay location, as well as sites proposed for Toronto and St. Catharines, are being frozen while the government conducts a review of harm-reduction practices and determines if overdose-prevention sites "have merit."
In response to Ontario's province-wide emergency response to the opioid crisis, Health Canada had announced last December that it would allow temporary sites to run for six months in areas where there was an urgent public health need.
The facility at Norwest Community Health Centre's location on Simpson Street was to be designed to service 50 clients each day.
Norwest had indicated that it also intended to apply for federal permission to operate a full-time supervised injection site.
In an interview Monday afternoon, CEO Juanita Lawson called Elliott's announcement "disheartening."
Lawson said "we know many individuals in the community need this service."
She said she hopes the pause ordered by the government will be short, and that it gets the information it needs from experts in order to allow the overdose-prevention site to open.
Cynthia Olsen, the City of Thunder Bay's drug strategy co-ordinator, echoed Lawson's reaction, saying she was "saddened."
Olsen said there is "strong and robust" evidence supporting the need for supervised injection sites.
Noting that three people die from overdoses every day in Ontario, she said she hopes the government's review is done expeditiously.