THUNDER BAY -- A safe injection site is coming to Thunder Bay “sometime soon,” says CEO Juanita Lawson of the Norwest Community Health Centre.
The health centre has been granted provincial approval to open a temporary site at their location on Simpson Street as part of a province-wide emergency response to the opioid crisis.
Last December, Health Canada announced it would give exemptions to allow for temporary sites to run for six months in areas where evidence shows there is an urgent public health need.
Lawson says Norwest Community Health Centre, who is partnered Dilico Anishinabek Family Care on the project, is in the process of hiring and should have the site running very shortly.
“There is very clear evidence around the need for overdose prevention sites, and supervised consumption sites, and looking at individuals who need services,” Lawson said.
A city council report issued by the Thunder Bay Drug Strategy in April showed Thunder Bay had the highest annualized rate of opioid overdose deaths in Ontario between 2013 and 2016.
“In Northern Ontario we struggle with really poor health outcomes,” Lawson said. She cited the region’s socioeconomic status around issues of poverty, access to mental health, and primary care as some of the key contributors.
Lawson said she’s not concerned with the provincial government’s rhetoric on safe injection sites, at least not temporarily.
Premier Doug Ford announced he was “dead against” safe injection sites during his campaign, but recent reports indicate the Ford government is studying scientific research to see if the sites have merit.
“There’s been a lot of great advocacy from organizations who support overdose sites,” Lawson said. “It really has been highlighted because there are organizations that need short-term funding. You can’t just stop it half-way.”
The site, which will be monitored by a registered nurse and harm reduction workers, will be designed to service 50 people each day.
Once the temporary site runs its six-month span, Lawson said the centre will apply for a supervised consumption site.
Supervised consumption sites are intended to provide long-term, comprehensive solutions to address the harms associated with problematic substance use, including better access to education and health services.
The application process is handled through the federal government.