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Report on local drug injection site set for new year

The results of a feasibility study into a supervised drug injection facility for Thunder Bay will be made public in February.
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The results of a feasibility study into a supervised drug injection facility for Thunder Bay will be made public in February.

The findings were originally scheduled to be released this week, but the parties involved in the study announced a postponement, saying that the report is still being drafted, and more time is needed to interpret the results and consult key stakeholders.

Principal investigator Dr. Thomas Kerr of the University of British Columbia won't talk about the conclusions at this point, but is willing to discuss what he's learned about the situation in Thunder Bay after spending time in the community and conducting research.

"There are huge issues related to preventable drug-related harm, and there's a need for more intervention," he told 

What that intervention might be, Kerr said, "is gonna be really up to people in Thunder Bay and the relevant people working in health who are looking after these issues."

Official statistics show that 29 people died in Thunder Bay due to drug toxicity and drug-and-alcohol toxicity in 2013. In 2014, Balmoral Withdrawal Management Services had nearly 2,600 admissions, and Thunder Bay has one of the busiest needle exchange programs in Ontario, with well over 3,800 clients.

Kerr served as the main evaluator of Insite in Vancouver, which was established in 2003 as the first legal supervised injection site in North America.  

He said Thunder Bay presents unique challenges.

"There are some very high rates of infectious diseases," he said. 'There's a very high rate of prescription opioid misuse, and the geography makes it unique." 

Kerr added that "we know a lot about drug use and how to reduce drug-related harm in large cities, but we don't have a lot of experience looking at it in more northern locations or in mid-sized cities."

He welcomed Monday's announcement that the federal government plans to pass new legislation to eliminate 26 strict requirements for new supervised drug injection sites that were put in place by the previous Conservative government.

The Harper government, Kerr said, "made those rules incredibly onerous...We're in the midst of an overdose crisis, literally hundreds of people dying, and health officials need the authority to establish life-saving services on an emergency basis."