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Health officials submit applications for 'life-saving' SCS in Barrie

'Every month that goes by that we don’t have one of these sites, more deaths occur that could have been prevented and that’s tragic,' says mayor
2021-05-12 11 Innisfil St. RB 1
The proposed location for a supervised consumption site (SCS) in Barrie is at 11 Innisfil St.

After years of legwork, formal applications for funding approval for a supervised consumption site (SCS) in Barrie have been filed. 

The Simcoe County branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), in partnership with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, submitted formal applications to Health Canada this week for exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA), as well as to the provincial government for funding approval, for the proposed SCS at 11 Innisfil St. 

“The submission of these two applications is a significant milestone and an important step toward establishing safe consumption and readily accessible wraparound services for people who use drugs in the Barrie community," CMHA chief executive officer Dr. Valerie Grdisa said in a release.

“The opioid crisis has been significantly exacerbated by the pandemic, highlighting the critical need for low barrier access to harm reduction and treatment services.”

Dr. Lisa Simon, associate medical officer of health for the local health unit, noted while they await decisions on the applications from both Health Canada and the Ministry of Health, the two partner organizations will continue their engagement efforts with residents and businesses within proximity of the proposed site, which is located next to the former Red Storey Field and just around the corner from Barrie Fire and Emergency Services headquarters. 

The CMHA and health unit say they are committed to providing ongoing and open communication during the remaining application process and throughout the operations of the site, if approved.

Mayor Jeff Lehman says while he knows the process is a lengthy one, he's hopeful the province and the ministry will see the urgency and approve the request as quickly as possible. 

“It sits with the ministry and they probably don’t review these things overnight," Lehman said. "It certainly took quite a while to put the application together and there was a lot of work done by the partners… but every month that goes by that we don’t have one of these sites, more deaths occur that could have been prevented and that’s tragic.”

In 2020, there were 58 opioid deaths in Barrie, more than double the 26 from 2019. The city also had the third highest crude opioid mortality rate among all Ontario municipalities with at least 100,000 residents. 

The Innisfil Street location was chosen based on site selection criteria, which included proximity to where drug use is happening, data collected through an extensive community consultation process, and final consideration by the site selection advisory committee.

Barrie city council provided its endorsement for the Innisfil Street location on May 31, 2021, as the site offers a good balance between serving clients effectively and ensuring an acceptable fit within the surrounding community.

While the choice of location doesn't come without some challenges for those who live nearby, Lehman says he believes the applicants have been genuine in trying to engage with the neighbourhood and plan on operating it as best they can to minimize any potential conflict. 

“When we started this process, I think there were as many people who were opposed to a SCS as were in support," the mayor said. "My sense in the community was that it was very divided.

"I think since that time, many people in Barrie have come to understand just how severe this crisis is, and how badly needed an SCS is in terms of saving people’s lives for long enough to get them into treatment,” Lehman added. 

As a community, the city can never look at an SCS as all it is doing to address the opioid crisis, he says.

“It’s much more complicated and so much more is needed than that," Lehman said. "This is really just one step, but it is the critical life-saving step.”

In Ontario, supervised consumption sites are referred to as Consumption and Treatment Services (CTS), but these names refer to the same services and can be used interchangeably.

For more information on SCS, including the local application history and past work of the site selection advisory committee, click here.