Local officials hope a harm reduction program aimed at combatting addiction in Sarnia-Lambton won’t be affected by Premier Doug Ford’s move to review safe injection and overdose prevention sites.
“So far, we have no indication that it would be impacted,” said Dr. Sudit Ranade, Lambton’s Medical Officer of Health. “We are still waiting to see.”
The province’s new Progressive Conservative government has announced plans to halt the opening of three new overdose prevention sites, and review whether or not such facilities, along with safe-injection sites, will be funded in the future. The move prompted swift backlash from medical officials and harm reduction advocates.
There are no facilities locally, but Sarnia-Lambton’s harm reduction strategy includes a needle exchange program aimed at reducing the spread of HIV, hepatitis and other blood-borne infections.
The number of people using the program has risen steadily since 2012, and last year more than 500,000 needles were distributed.
But it’s not a permanent solution, Ranade said, adding the province’s implementation of overdose prevention sites was intended as a temporary measure to combat the growing opioid crisis.
“You can’t think of it as a standalone intervention. You need to have a larger strategy in place, of which supervised usage is just one part,” he said.
“You need a community strategy and multiple organizations working together. So, in some ways, the issue is being looked at too narrowly.”
Nearly 4,000 Canadians died from opioid overdoses in 2017, up 34% from 2016.
Lambton County has a higher rate of addiction, opioid and substance misuse than the provincial average.
In a recent survey that reached 800 local residents, 68% supported harm reduction strategies, while 54% said they supported supervised injection sites.
Ranade said the possibility of an overdose prevention site for Lambton — which is under discussion — might be more of a distraction from what’s needed: a permanent residential facility.
Officials are still awaiting news from the Ministry of Health on where a 24-bed withdrawal management facility will be located.
“I am more worried about whether or not this will impact the funding of that facility, through the LHIN,” he said. “I don’t think it will — I think we’ll still get there.”