File photo of Christine Elliott by by Mark Brown/Blackburn News.

Overdose Prevention Site Gets Extension

With just days until its permit is to expire, London’s temporary overdose prevention site is getting a longer lease on life.

Responding to a question from London North Centre MPP Terence Kernaghan, Health Minister Christine Elliott said on Thursday morning that she will extend the permit beyond the August 15 deadline.

“We want to look at the evidence to make sure that the continuation of all the supervised injection sites are going to be a benefit to people to save lives and to help introduce people into rehabilitation,” she said. “The particular site that you’re speaking about in London, we are looking at a temporary situation to extend it’s time for us to be able to continue with this investigation and that is what I’m hoping to do in the next few days to make sure that we can do that. We don’t want them to stop the work while our investigation is undergoing.”

The Temporary Overdose Prevention Site, at 186 King St., received provincial funding and permission to operate from the former Wynne government in January. Since it opened in February, there have been more than 4,000 client visits, several overdose reversals, and 91 client referrals to other services including addictions treatment, mental health counselling, and housing, according to a report going to the Middlesex London Health Unit. The site, on average, sees 55 visits per weekday and 30 visits a day on weekends. The most common drug being consumed at the site is hydromorphone, followed by crystal methamphetamine.

“We understand that there is a big opioid crisis in the situation. I understand that that clinic is being very well used and is doing some very good work,” Elliott said Thursday.

Dr. Chris Mackie, medical officer of health and CEO of the Middlesex London Health Unit, was very pleased to hear about the extension. He says it gives them more time to make the case of the importance of overdose prevention sites. The health unit is currently awaiting a decision from Health Canada on two permanent supervised consumption sites at 446 York St. and 241 Simcoe St.

“This is a very positive signal. If anything, I’m really happy that this is a government that is going to consider expert input and consider researched evidence when they’re making their decision,” Mackie said Thursday.

There had been concerns that the Ford government might not approve an extension of the permit for the temporary site on King St. During the election campaign, Doug Ford said he was “dead against” supervised consumption sites. However, Mackie believes there has been a softening of that position.

“I think when Doug Ford was challenged on this issue on the campaign trail, his reaction was really about people using drugs and, obviously, nobody wants to see more people using drugs,” Mackie said. “The research around this sort of site says that it doesn’t promote drug use. If anything, it’s the opposite. We’ve been able to get several people through this site into addictions treatment. I see that as a real positive.”