Opioid crisis: savings lives has to be first priority, says Ward

“There is an extremely serious opioid crisis in Barrie and Simcoe County at this time and we, as a society, need to address it, and quickly.”

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit has been invited to make a presentation t0 Barrie city council on the Simcoe Muskoka Opioid Strategy Action Plan. The invitation was sponsored by Ward 4 Coun. Barry Ward, a member of the unit’s board.
“I personally believe it is important that councillors be educated on the current crisis and what is being done about it. It is for that same reason that I invited, earlier this year, representatives of the Gilbert Centre and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) to make a presentation to council on the proposed Overdose Prevention Site (OPS).”
The opioid strategy involves a partnership formed to tackle what is being called a growing crisis of opioid use and overdose in the region. Highlights of the plan include an early warning system, harm reduction plans, medical and emergency response, and prevention and enforcement.
“The health unit’s opioid strategy makes it clear that addressing the crisis will take many different approaches, including an Overdose Prevention Site (or the current alternate Consumption and Treatment Services being proposed by the province).”
The Royal Victoria Health Centre released data in March about what it called an alarming jump in overdose-related incidents in Barrie. The centre said opioid overdose have increased five-fold over a five-year period, adding that between April 2017 and February 2018, it treated 330 overdoses.
The proposed OPS, a controversial option, is only one part of an overall strategy, says Ward, but an important one. Research he has done has led him to believe a site in Barrie will save lives, “which has to be our first priority.”
An application has been made by the Gilbert Centre and the CMHA for a OPS to be located in downtown Barrie.
“I think it is important to keep all stakeholders informed, which is why I asked the Gilbert Centre and CMHA to present to council. The views of the stakeholders should be taken into consideration but the need to address the opioid crisis is so great there can’t be a veto.”
Issues related to homelessness also need to be addressed in an overall strategy, including the arrival of people being released from the Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene, he continues.
“The recent homeless enumeration indicated a substantial portion of Barrie’s homeless – although far from most – were recently released from prison. I think the Housing First strategy adopted by the county is the right approach, although I know finding that accommodation isn’t easy because of Barrie’s housing shortage.”
The problem, he adds, “won’t be solved overnight or even in a few months, but we have to work on it.”